Live review

Eddie Henderson Quartet Plus Xhosa Cole, Richard Foote and Chris Young in Birmingham

Eddie Henderson Quartet Plus Xhosa Cole, Richard Foote and Chris Young
(Pizza Express, Brindley Place, Birmingham, 14 November. Review and photos by John Watson)

Eddie Henderson. Pizza Express, Birmingham – photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera,co.uk

The two greatest challenges facing any jazz trumpeter are developing a distinctive musical voice on the instrument, and maintaining a long career without the lip giving out.

Eddie Henderson has certainly achieved both with distinction: a gloriously melodic and passionate approach to improvisation, and – at the age of 81 – a secure embouchure which is clearly still in great shape.

His sold-out Birmingham performance – which followed a quartet appearance the previous night at Pizza Express Jazz Club in London – opened featuring Eddie with pianist Matyas Gayer, bassist Arnie Somogyi and drummer Stephen Keogh. After beautifully crafted versions of “Think On Me” (by pianist George Cables), “Up Jumped Spring” (by Freddie Hubbard) and an exquisite ballad, “Portrait Of Jenny”, Eddie and the rhythm section were joined in turn by Birmingham tenor saxophonist Xhosa Cole, alto saxophonist Chris Young, and trombonist Richard Foote to form a rather special septet.

The trombonist showed what a melodically gifted and vibrant performer he is with a very fine solo on “Joe’s Blow”, a tribute to American drummer Joe Chambers, while Xhosa’s forthright style echoed the muscular approach of the great American tenorman Billy Harper – a close associate of Eddie’s in the excellent U.S. band The Cookers. Young, who contributed an excellent arrangement of organist Larry Willis’s “To Wisdom The Prize” has developed into a very fiery improviser, a strong contrast to Henderson’s glowing melodic approach.

Amid the fire and fury, the band performed a richly textured and gloriously mellow arrangement of pianist Kenny Barron’s “Phantoms”, showing that this expanded group has musical depth as well as uptempo energy.

Bassist Somogyi had developed the idea for the septet while on a canal walk with Birmingham promoter Tony Dudley Evans, who through his TDE Promotions organisation sponsored the arrangements, while Pizza Express promoted the concert.

Somogyi has discovered an exceptional talent in Hungarian pianist Gayer, now happily a resident in the UK, and along with drummer Keogh they work brilliantly as a supportive, interactive rhythm section.

Eddie Henderson with Chris Young, Xhosa Cole and Richard Foote – photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Eddie had last appeared in the city in 2018, at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, with Somogyi, Keogh and American pianist Bruce Barth.

What an amazing life: having an informal trumpet lesson at the age of nine from Louis Armstrong; being in a family who had a great friendship with Miles Davis; landing a gig with Herbie Hancock; and going on to work with countless giants of jazz.

Despite qualifying as a medical doctor (Eddie has worked in general practice – see interview below), it hardly seems surprising that music proved the greater draw: from 1970 he had three highly productive years as a member of Hancock’s pioneering Mwandishi band, and released his first two albums as a leader in 1973: Realization and Inside Out for Capricorn Records, LPs which still sound hugely impressive. His subsequent recorded catalogue, as a leader and a sideman, is now massive.

The Pizza Express date provided another splendid chapter in the Eddie Henderson story – let’s hope we hear him again before too long with this expanded line-up.

LINK: 2020 Interview with Eddie Henderson on his 80th Birthday

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