Andy Panayi and the Blue Vanguard Trio
(Blue Vanguard Jazz Club, Exeter. Live review by Martin Sawer)
St Matthew’s Hall in the ancient port town of Topsham, downriver from Exeter, is the new home for the Blue Vanguard monthly jazz club. The Blue Vanguard Trio of Craig Milverton on keys, Al Swainger on bass and ‘Coach’ York on drums are the ideal seasoned and sensitive combo to support any guest artist. Last night’s re-opening saw Andy Panayi, on flute and tenor saxophone, lead the trio in two wide-ranging interpretative sets of jazz standard – and not-so-standard – numbers. In front of a capacity audience (no mean feat, that), the varied, delicate and sometimes intense accompaniments were perfectly attuned to the needs of each of the 14 pieces played.
As the knowledgeable audience quickly warmed to the occasion, Andy Panayi’s natural instincts as a front man and educator (he is a conservatoire professor after all) soon came to the fore as, with a good sense of humour, he explained the roots of each number. The band and the audience began to share once again that connection that only live music can create – and what a pleasure (and relief) that was.
It was evident from the outset that the hard-working Blue Vanguard Trio, who have been together for nine years now, were able to both give each other space and inter-play intensely when required. This was demonstrated well on the second number – a sensitive version of Miles Davis’s So What. Sounding intense with a flute as lead, supported by really delicate solos from the three other musicians, this familiar piece was a great one to warm up the punters.
The variety of the set, and also the ease with which the band slipped into the different styles required, was impressive – especially so, as Andy Panayi would increasingly follow his instinct, and let the mood in the room rather than any pre-planning dictate the direction of the set-list. Throughout the evening, Al Swainger showed us how his silky and rippling bass notes could be used to great effect, both in solos and when underpinning the group.
With the interpretation of numbers ranging from Duke Ellington’s quiet Solitude through to the intensity of Charlie Parker’s Hot House and Scrapple from the Apple, we also heard Latin and Roman tunes. Perhaps the most surprising piece we heard was one composed by John Coltrane – first released on the ‘lost’ album released in 2018 as Both Directions at Once – plainly titled Untitled Original 11383. Andy Panayi explained that the composition was simply based on the notes of the ‘blues scale’. The sax intricacies were then followed by some intense keyboard playing by Craig Milverton, his fleet fingers working immensely hard, and very fast .
Evoking brighter days, Up Jumped Spring by Freddie Hubbard was given a whimsical reading that seemed to chime with current times, the solo flute producing a real sense of atmosphere, echoed by the precise rhythmic interplay with drummer Coach York, who played with a wonderfully intuitive feel for both level and timbre all evening.
The audience certainly started rocking in rhythm when any Latin number was rolled out, so, following an audience vote, we finished the happy evening with the crowd-pleasing Girl from Ipanema.
The Blue Vanguard Jazz Club continues monthly on Thursday evenings for the remainder of 2021 – for full programme details visit: www.bluevanguard.co.uk