Live review

Deschanel Gordon Quartet at the 606 Club

Deschanel Gordon Quartet
(606 Club. 26 June 2021. Review by Peter Jones)

Deschanel Gordon. Photo credit: Matt Pannell

This eagerly-anticipated gig was massively over-subscribed, and it’s not difficult to see why. 23-year-old Londoner Deschanel Gordon has already scaled the heights: last year he not only won the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year but graduated from Trinity Laban with a First. He has also appeared at Ronnie Scott’s, The Barbican, Love Supreme, and at festivals in Europe and America as well as playing with the SEED ensemble and various other London bands. The only question is: has he peaked too soon?

Not on the evidence of this gig. The evening began with the first tune Gordon played at the Young Jazz Musician final – Kenny Garrett’s lovely waltz Haynes Here. Within the sedate confines of television, it was a classy trio rendition that instantly stamped him as a major talent, steeped in the traditions he began exploring after hearing Oscar Peterson for the first time. Here, in a club setting with a quartet, the tune became something else altogether.

Alex Hitchcock on tenor (“my favourite sax player in the whole world”, as Gordon described him) added a dimension of cool thrills that extended the song’s range in fascinating directions. In fact, the whole band contributed to the excitement – including transplanted New Yorker Will Sach on bass and drummer Will Cleasby (these two also have a trio with Will Barry on piano known, inevitably, as The Three Willies). Sach constantly yelled his appreciation to the others, while at the end of the tune Cleasby let rip with a thunderous solo that just about demolished the kit.

Again following the sequence of Deschanel Gordon’s BBC performance, they continued with Gordon’s own medium-swing blues Awaiting. The creative process was clear for all to see as he began his solo, at first tentatively probing the keys for inspiration, soon finding a pattern and a groove that he liked, and then really digging in. When it was Sach’s turn, however, a familiar problem became evident: audience noise. At Ronnie Scott’s, even the rustling of a napkin is considered an outrage. Here at the Six, a more relaxed, bohemian atmosphere reigns, and extraordinary efforts go into supporting the musicians and the jazz community as a whole. So it’s a shame when people turn up who have no interest in music, regarding it merely as background to their own conversation, and ignore all requests for quiet. I don’t know what the answer is. Security staff? A system of red and yellow cards?

Deschanel Gordon Quartet at the 606 Club. Photo credit: Matt Pannell

Luckily none of this threw the band off their stride as they continued with Ahmad Jamal’s arrangement of Music Music Music (during which Hitchcock laid out), quickly followed by I Know a Place and Enchantments. Another Gordon original, Find the Way, had a funky feel to it, and this time the band revealed its command of sophisticated dynamics, building them up and breaking them down throughout the tune. After the break came another highlight, a trio version of Let’s Fall in Love, again with Ahmad Jamal as the inspiration.

During the evening someone muttered that it’s hard to know what decade we’re in when it comes to Deschanel Gordon. Is he cutting edge or is he simply offering his own brilliant take on familiar styles? An unfair question, of course. He’s still exploring – trying to find a way, to coin a phrase. Having said that, for all his beautiful phrasing and harmonic sense, ballads aren’t really on the menu – yet. For now, the band is at its most satisfying when the spirit of Jamal takes over, and they flex their collective groove muscle.

Deschanel Gordon and Will Sach chatting after the gig. Photo credit: Matt Pannell

LINKS: Interview with Deschanel Gordon from November 2020

Deschanel Gordon on BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year

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