Live review

St. Barbe – ‘Tellicherry’ single release party at Grow, Hackney

St. Barbe

(Grow, Hackney. Tellicherry single release party 23 November 2022. Live review by Richard Lee)

Edwin Ireland and James Maltby. Photo by Richard Lee

Already garnering attention from Dennis Chambers of the Mike Stern Band, for whom they opened at the Jazz Café in July, St. Barbe is a highly talented trio of Guildhall graduates who occupy the ground of alt-jazz-rock-electronica with an ease and melodic excitement that’s most engaging. It’s been a busy year, a UK tour following the Stern date, which also saw them debut at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Tonight’s gig was a launch of their new single Tellicherry.

The set started a little tentatively with some onstage adjustments to the sound but the second number (in 12/8) saw them relax into really accomplished delivery. It’s hard to define if this is “guitar-led”: it’s undeniably the melodic centre of one’s attention and James Maltby’s pure-sounding fretwork and agile picking conjures up fluid, light-sounding lines that gradually morph into some fiercely complex shredding, taking no prisoners when it comes to surprising shifts of time. But what’s striking is how Edwin Ireland’s fulsome bass and Floyer Syndenham’s ever-inventive drumming both play such a prominent melodic role too, driving the whole thing forward in the fast lane: definitely a band of equals. An array of footwork from Maltby releases the electronica that characterises but never overwhelms the sense of three intelligent and creative musicians organically interlocking with their instruments. This is complex music but retains real humanity, and not a little joie de vivre.

An earlier track from their Shapeless EP, Petrichor was a something of a showstopper with loping drum & bass and free-floating guitar lines, though the following ballad Dorothy with its sweet Cavatina-type vibe may have been a shade too gentle for this lively canal-side venue with its excellent bar, food and bonhomie. The subsequent number Greg’s Hut was right at home though, a forceful kind of shuffle; what followed (which I’ve noted as “a tribute to Foxy Lady despite being in 3/4”) and the recent studio track Noumena both had the audience up on its feet.

The focus of the event, Tellicherry closed the set and, like all their recent releases, has been produced by James Knight with the band and there’s an obvious care they bring to the highly defined sound they attempt to reproduce, with much success, onstage. The band say they draw inspiration from artists such as Tigran Hamaysan, Animals As Leaders and Plini – all new to me so, for this old-timer, I couldn’t help but think it all a bit latter-day Soft Machine on the dancefloor. And no bad thing for that. Tellicherry starts in an almost stately manner but builds by way of choppy time changes into a heck of a rocker, and edges into metal with the ringing Maltby guitar & electronica – it really is a fine piece of work. All tracks are available on the band’s streaming platforms via the website and I’d urge you to seek them out.

Worth mentioning that while their onstage presence is relaxed and unshowy, the spoken intros to numbers are delivered by Maltby with a dry wit, they’re informed and informative, clearly engaging the audience. The same humour characterises the band’s Tik-Tok & Instagram accounts, lately taking Elon Musk down a peg or two…

Tereza Catarov. Publicity photo.

Opening for St. Barbe was a guest ensemble led by vocalist, Tereza Catarov, whose short but impressive set pre-empted what was to follow with similar alt-rock-jazz compositions but here was a decidedly more Euro-world-music/indie-soul flavour. The band included St. Barbe’s drummer Floyer Syndenham literally in the driving seat, effortlessly propelling another extraordinarily talented line-up – Innes Yellowlees on keys, Giovanni Cresseri bass and guitarist Erdogan Cem Evin whose Metheny-like solos thrilled as much as James Maltby’s would do later in the evening.

An enthusiastic young audience listened, ate, drank and danced throughout this refreshing and highly amicable evening of jazz-to-come. Incidentally, I googled Tellicherry and Wikipedia came up with this: “Tellicherry (or Tillicheri) was a two-decker ship built on the Thames in 1796 in England for John St Barbe, a wealthy merchant and ship owner…” I am reliably informed by the band that this is a complete coincidence. Completely unlike their music – an entirely intentional enterprise of great talent, to thrill the world…

LINKS: St. Barbe website

St Barbe on Instagram / and TikTok

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