Peter Bernstein and Jim Mullen
(606 Club. 23 November 2021. Review by Nigel Price)
The jazz world can be a very noisy place. It can often feel like the only way to get yourself noticed is to shout loudly, play impossibly fast, wear some funny clothes or perhaps even ‘bust a few genres’. However, despite the humdrum, there are still some brave souls who quietly get on with it, unfazed by fads and immovable in their quest to celebrate and make sense of the human experience through jazz music. The right to stand unquestionably on the shoulders of giants can only be achieved with an almost unimaginable amount of study, not to mention a profound respect for the heritage. There is no shortcut. It’s a life’s work. A long, long game.It’s not for the faint-hearted. It requires patience, dedication and 100% conviction.
Enter …Peter Bernstein. Perhaps the most tasteful, melodic and sought after jazz guitarist of his generation, Peter has travelled a long road that has seen him become an integral part of jazz history, perhaps most notably (for guitarists at any rate) having for many years been the full time guitarist for Melvin Rhyne, Wes Montgomery’s original organist. They were big shoes to fill but fill them he did. That alone would have been enough for Peter to enter the jazz ‘hall of fame’ but it was only the beginning. The list of accolades and achievements is actually way too large for a small article like this but I’ll pick a few highlights: Having studied with Kenny Barron and Jim Hall he went on to be a third of one of the most important jazz trios of the modern world along with Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart, was a full time sideman for the legendary Dr Lonnie Smith (Benson’s organist), has been a member of Mike LeDonne’s ‘Groover Quartet’ for 20 years and has recorded with Lou Donaldson, Joshua Redman, Diana Krall and dozens of other greats. There’s so much more….
Peter was touring in Europe in November and made the fabulous decision to stop in London for one night only. He travels the world, seeking out like minds – musicians who play with guts, soul, and have that wondrous ability to make a profound connection with the audience….
Enter – Jim Mullen. If you’re going to pick just one guitarist in the UK who ticks all these boxes, then Jim is that musician. He is a national treasure and the undisputed heavyweight champion of jazz guitar on these islands. With a totally unique sound, a totally unique technique and an unrivalled, seemingly bottomless knowledge of repertoire, he’s been absolutely tearing it up here for decades. Anybody who has spent any time exploring jazz here in the UK will know exactly who Jim Mullen is and will have marvelled at his his incredible musicality, not to mention his massive contribution to the music. He’s showing no signs of slowing down and is playing as well as ever. How utterly brilliant is it that Peter sought out Jim, and that the 606 Club could make this one-of-a-kind, very special night happen?
So, the scene is nearly set. Rhythm section? Of course it’s Steve Brown on drums. Of course. The most positive, supportive and swinging drummer on the scene with an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz legacy. He’s the don and everybody knows it, despite his life being devoid of all social media! Likewise, bass giant Jeremy Brown was the absolute right choice for the gig, a huge sound, a bluesy, breezy melodic elegance and a cool head under pressure.
So. To the gig! There was a buzz in Chelsea that night. There was definitely something in the chilly air. Even on the way in, the tube was absolutely packed full of excitable football fans on their way to Stamford Bridge on match day, just around the corner from the 606 club which subtly added to the sense of occasion. The ‘6’ was the perfect venue for this gig. A good ‘ol gloomy underground jazz club! Push the buzzer, wait for the quizzical look from the door below, go through the metal gate, down the stairs and you’re in. The place is well worn and you’re immediately aware that thousands and thousands of great nights have been had here. It’s become a vital piece of London history. I tell you what, I’ve never seen the place so packed. Many had travelled a long way to be there. With little advertising, no ‘sponsored Facebook posts’ and no hype, this gig had sold out days before and I reckon it could have sold out for a second night too, maybe even a third. It was definitely this year’s hot ticket and the audience was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the UK jazz guitar scene. I feel sorry for anyone who was trying to book a guitarist in London on Tuesday night!
The atmosphere in the room was electric and when Steve Rubie introduced the gladiators the place erupted with the kind of applause you’d usually hear at the very end of a great gig. As we sat there before it started, there had been some chuckles about Peter’s whomping great Fender Twin versus Jim’s tiny AER but when the band came bowling in with ‘Lyresto’ (originally from ‘Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane’) it was clear that it’s ‘all in the fingers’ and Jim was towering, in stature too, looming large over the enthralled and hungry crowd, spinning out beautiful melody and gutsy, bluesy lines.Now I think about it, Peter couldn’t have chosen a much taller band! They’re all six footers.Peter’s presence, although a good foot shorter than anyone else on the stage, was just as imposing. Heads craned around other heads, all trying to get a clear view of the way he delivers those magical ‘time fluid’ lines.
‘Time’ is Peter’s thing. He’s so hip to nestling his notes in that ’sweet spot’, quite late on the beat, and it was just fantastic to see and hear it actually happen right there in front of us. There were beaming smiles all round.We were aware too that the first set was being live streamed and you could almost feel the presence of the ‘virtual’ audience around the World as well as those unlucky enough to have missed out on the tickets.The two giants clearly relished each other’s playing. It was just such a great pairing and it sounded like they’d been playing together for ever although a brief chat with Peter in the break revealed that they’d had just 35 minutes to get together and figure out a set before the gig!
There followed an hour of outrageously good jazz. A grooving ‘Monk’s Dream’, a thunderous Wes Montgomery’s ‘Full House’ (appropriately!), a moment of real tenderness (as well as a jaw dropping Bernstein guitar intro) with ‘Stairway to the stars’, a rousing ‘Fungii Mama’ (Blue Mitchell), finishing up with Clifford Brown’s ‘Sandu’ which saw Peter and Jim climbing up each other on the trades, whipping up the room to a roaring and whistling frenzy. We all went in there knowing that we were about to see something special and we came away with even our high expectations exceeded.
That was certainly the gig of the year for me, and a totally unforgettable experience.
Categories: Live review