Live review

Emma Rawicz Quintet/Oscar Lyons Quartet at Watford Jazz Junction

Emma Rawicz Quintet/Oscar Lyons Quartet

(Watford Jazz Junction. Pump House Theatre, Watford. 20 May 2023. Live review by Peter Slavid)

There’s something special about listening to high quality live music in a community venue. It’s the sense you get in good local jazz clubs, but rarely see at a music festival. Watford Jazz Junction, now in its second year, manages to be something of an exception, with sold-out gigs attended by a predominantly local audience.

The festival, supported by JazzFM, ran from 18-21 May with big crowds at all the events over the weekend. This Saturday matinee concert was another complete sell-out.

The show started with a 30-minute set from a hugely talented 17 year old pianist and composer from Suffolk, Oscar Lyons. The young band – at least one of whom had to rush off to revise for an A-level exam later this week, performed well beyond their years. Lyons clearly has a future as a composer as well as a pianist, and George Johnson on tenor has a really rounded and mature sound. The rhythm section of Chris Diamond on bass and Luke McCarthy on drums made major contributions too.

The headline act was the Emma Rawicz Quintet. There has been a lot of hype around Rawicz, already a multiple award winner, and on this showing it’s well justified. She has gathered an outstanding group of musicians around her, all of them in demand as sidemen and band leaders in their own right. The group has a new album coming out shortly on the ACT label (NEWS STORY) and we heard tracks from that, as well as from her earlier album.

Rawicz has a big dominant sound, with influences from Wayne Shorter, Chris Potter and others, but she makes it very much her own. She stands centre stage, occasionally bouncing enthusiastically. She handles long extended solos effortlessly, interacting cleverly with interjections from Ant Law‘s guitar and Ivo Neame‘s piano. Meanwhile Conor Chaplin on bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums provide a constantly shifting rhythmic underpinning.

All the band members get a chance to shine, with fine solos all round. What’s most impressive though is the interaction. These are musicians who listen to each other and interact to great effect. Rawicz’s compositions can sometimes be spiky or sometimes lyrical, and they bring out some terrific music from the band. Throughout the event she manages to combine a polished band performance with an engaging personality.

This was only the second year of the Watford Jazz Junction, and this was just one of the sold out concerts. The future of live music is always stronger when it’s centred in a community, so this suggests a solid future for this festival which has hopefully now established a firm place in the jazz calendar.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations

Categories: Live review, Reviews

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