Live review

‘Shaney Forbes Explores Blossom Dearie’ at the 606 (EFG LJF 2021)

‘Shaney Forbes Explores Blossom Dearie’

(606 Club. 16 November 2021. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

L-R: Joe Webb, Artie Zaitz, Tom Farmer, Ruben Fox, Shaney Forbes. Phone snap.

Titles for gigs don’t come much more improbable or intriguing than this one, and therefore the urge to head down to SW10 and to investigate what it was all actually about was to prove irresistible…

“It’s not a tribute,” explained drummer Shaney Forbes, “we are inspired by her sensibility”. And perhaps the important word in that sentence is who the “we” is.

In this quintet the “we” starts with presence in the group of the bassist with whom Shaney Forbes has worked for most of two decades in Empirical. Every time he mentioned his name it was uttered reverentially, and complete with three solemnly intoned trochees: “Thomas Walter Farmer.”

Tom Farmer’s playing in this group is all about having that Ray Brown weight, propulsiveness and presence in the sound, off which a driving and infectious sense of swing can be built. His is the kind of joyous positivity that could power an ocean liner. And Farmer and Forbes, from their years of working together have astonishing empathy. The arrangement of “Our Love is Here to Stay” was built on a powerful rhythmic cell from drum and bass, and worked brilliantly.

Forbes has a range of timbres from gentle to overwhelming and all the shades in between. I noticed how unselfishly he took the role of leader in general, although when the tune “Bang goes the drum (And you’re in Love)” came along, he understandably used the song title as the pretext for a fine extended solo. Such things are impossible to resist…

Another potent and assured force in this group is tenor saxophonist Ruben Fox, whose debut album was my choice for the August 2021 Europe Jazz Media Chart (LINK). His positive and leader-ish playing is very reminiscent of the great Don Byas. He led us on a highly enjoyable and involving journey from the slow verse and on to the driving chorus in “They Say It’s Swing”, and the way he managed the stop-start of “I’m Hip” was flawless.

In this context, pianist Joe Webb and guitarist Artie Zaitz become spirits who are free to roam, able to find their way to all kinds of colourful voicings and soloing adventures, and Shaney Forbes ensured that there were quite a few numbers where they could take the limelight. “Now at Last” was a special moment, a lovely solo piano interlude, and “I walk a Little Faster” was a feature for Zaitz to show his superb instinct for floating a melody.

This unlikely-sounding new jazz project will (surely… hopefully !!!) be heard live again. In the meantime, the first set was streamed and will be found on the 606’s channel (needs sign-in)

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