Album reviews

Alessio Menconi/Nigel Price Quartet – ‘Live At Peggy’s Skylight’

Alessio Menconi/Nigel Price Quartet – Live At Peggy’s Skylight

(Nervy Nigel Records NERVYCD003. Album review by Mark McKergow)

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This superb live performance brings together two titans of European jazz guitar for a swinging performance captured live at Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham, in March 2022. It’s an all-round delight.

Nigel Price’s appetite for work in all forms is legendary. First out of the blocks after the pandemic with a national tour, supporting struggling jazz clubs with his raffles, releasing crowd-pleasing albums – nothing is too large or small for this flexible guitarist and entrepreneur. 

Price first met Italian guitar maestro and Billy Cobham sideman Alessio Menconi a decade ago when the latter came to the UK and a worse-for-wear Price was prevailed upon to sit in using a borrowed instrument. A disastrous performance of Night And Day apparently followed (who knew that French guitars have their fretboard dots in different places?). However things can’t have been so bad, because Alessio was in touch in 2021 hoping to fix up some UK gigs around a booking at the Italian Embassy. Price set up a short tour culminating in a show at Peggy’s Skylight club in Nottingham, and that’s the show we hear on the album.

For those who (like me) are unfamiliar, Peggy’s Skylight is a jewel of the East Midlands music scene. Independently run with a broad musical policy and locally sourced ethical food, the programme is jaw-dropping in breadth and quality with the very best of UK jazz, blues, soul, world and folk music on offer. Having music almost every night the club is well set up to record and live-stream performances, and that is what happened here. The show was recorded without any intention to release it past those joining the live stream from home. However, Price thought the results were too good to keep under wraps.

He was right. The eight numbers here are a beautiful example of the jazz art and craft, musicians coming together with sensitivity and courage to create something from nothing. This is quite literally the first and only time this line-up performed; Berklee-bound double bassist Louis Stringer was depping for Mikele Montolli who performed on the rest of the tour. The line-up was completed by new drum star and Price regular Joel Barford (the subject of a Peter Vacher feature in Jazzwise this month).

All these tracks are well-loved standards, but that’s no impediment to the joyful music on offer. The Days Of Wine And Roses opens proceedings with Menconi taking the tune and soloing first. The relaxed tempo means we can really appreciate the interplay between the two guitars (well separated in the mix) which starts immediately. Price follows, sounding a little more crunchy and producing some fluid fretwork. Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Stringer pulls out a nicely resonant bass solo to the appreciation of the audience. Night And Day is taken upbeat and Price finally proves to Alessio that he can play it with a romping solo. Barford makes the most of his drum solo with some duelling with Menconi.

A couple of other high points on this splendid set. Stompin’ At The Savoy, usually taken at a good clip, is featured here in a half-tempo feel verging on reggae, a very effective reading with plenty of space for the soloists and very well-judged bass line from Stringer. By contrast, A Night In Tunisia is taken at a more usual quick pace with Menconi relaxing into the groove and then letting loose. Price responds with chunky chords and makes way for another great drum section. The closing Tenor Madness is a joy, bouncing along with the guitars trading choruses and fours.

This is a terrific album, a fine set captured by good fortune and with obvious skill all round. And a final hat tip to whoever engineered the sound at Peggy’s Skylight – the recording is top class, clear and close-up in a way that helps the listener feel they’re right there in the front row.

Peggy’s Skylight has been threatened with closure, with the local council intending to sell the building. Peggy’s founders started a petition to get the council to delay so that they could raise funds to buy it. The sale has now been paused, but there is still a continuing possibility of disruption. Over 13,000 have signed the PETITION.

LINK: Live At Peggy’s Skylight on Nigel Price’s Bandcamp

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