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Jim Rattigan at Pizza Express Dean Street (‘When’ Album Tour)

Jim Rattigan
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 8 January 2022. Review by Lavender Sutton)

The niche-ness of jazz French horn might perplex some, but Jim Rattigan has been championing it for over 20 years now. After listening to his many recordings both with his quartet and his 12-piece band Pavillon, it’s more perplexing that jazz French horn isn’t more of an equal contender to any other brass or wind instrument. 

Rattigan is a highly-regarded classical player, sitting over the years in all of the London orchestras and contributing to many impressive movie scores and album recordings, but he has equally carved out a corner for himself as a bandleader in jazz (more in this 2016 podcast). 

This Saturday afternoon gig at Dean Street Pizza Express was the start of the upcoming tour of his latest release, When, which is a collection of 10 pieces all written by Rattigan for combined string quartet and rhythm section. Both the album and the concert feature the Tear String Quartet comprised of Julian Tear and Alison Gordon on violins, Nicholas Barr on viola and Nicholas Cooper on cello. The rhythm section here featured James Maddren on drums, Ivo Neame on piano and Dave Whitford on bass. 

Rattigan spoke about how combining these two elements wasn’t intended to be a “crossover” of genres but more of a juxtaposition. He needn’t even have had to say this as there was no question as to whether these elements fit together. His compositions (whether arranged for this project or re-arranged from previous recordings to suit this line-up) all seem to fit together as a collection. 

The cleverly planned set allowed a variety of opportunities to magnify Rattigan’s own skill as well as spotlight the contributions of each musician. His tune Shuzzed showed his prowess in writing a bebop head over the chord changes of Confirmation, confirming his ability to dextrously solo at this speed on such a tricky instrument (imagine blowing air through all that tubing!). There was even a speed-of-light blues, Mung Beans, which featured the rhythm section. Tear Quartet were seemingly quite glad to be observers on this one.

Rattigan used the unique technique of hand-stopping to share a solo “horn call” to segue into the piece The Commute which had a manic-sounding theme played by the strings providing an interesting layer over the top of Maddren’s textures on the drums. Together, they provided an uneasy, yearning vibe.

In some pieces, like It’s Not Quite the Same, the string quartet acted as an introduction, like the verse of a vocal jazz standard or the orchestral introduction of a musical, building the beautiful, melancholy mood for the eventual bouncing, medium swing of the theme. There was a push and pull between the two that settled the listener.

Rattigan spoke about how the pieces that came together to create When all had a sad and reflective feeling to them. The title track was definitely the pedestal of these feelings. Whitford’s contemplative bass solo was a beautiful touch. There were a few others with a similar theme, like Solace, which featured an uplifting, bluesy at times, solo from Neame. 

What better time than in the current climate to have these moments of contemplation and calm and what better way to experience it than in this unique setting with these virtuosic instrumentalists.

LINKS: Further tour dates 26-30 January on Jim Rattigan’s website

When – album review by Mark McKergow

When – album feature by John Fordham

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