Live reviews

Jay Leonhart and Ray Gallon at Pizza Pheasantry (EFG LJF 2023)

Jay Leonhart and Ray Gallon
(PizzaExpress Live Pheasantry. 12 November 2023. Second night of two. EFG LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Ray Gallon (L) and Jay Leonhart. Phone snap

I loved this gig. An appearance in London by Baltimore-born bassist (and wit, raconteur, poet, songwriter) Jay Leonhart really is that most incredibly rare of things. I have heard him only once before, in the mid 1990’s at Scullers in Boston in a band led by drummer Louie Bellson. Now 82, Leonhart reminisced at one point last night that his very first experience of touring was with pianist Al Haig. There is a strong sense of being privy to a distinguished history here.

Yes, there is a heritage and (always) a story, plus a sense of being rooted in history and jazz tradition..but with that also goes a mischievous attitude… a healthy way of questioning… and joy…and an art which is very much alive, always both provocative and conversational.

Leonhart opened up the gig with his classic song of self-deprecatory untruth, “It’s Impossible to Sing and Play the Bass”. Leonhart has taken the whimsy, the comic vision and the virtuoso internal rhyming schemes of Ogden Nash and made them a part of his work. So a song which mentions the blues, before we know it, has also riffed on “news” “muse” and “Santa Cruz”. Tampa (or course) cues in “damper”. And there is a bottomless supply of double entendres in “Mr Potato Head”. HERE BE LYRICS

Leonhart was in a duo with fine pianist Ray Gallon. We will have an extensive interview with him by Morgan Enos next week, mainly about his new trio album with Lewis Nash and Ron Carter. In Gallon’s playing there is amazing melodic clarity and invention and intention. Only very occasionally does he quote, he has a lot to say in his own right.. but his re-harmonised “I Feel Pretty”, insinuated into Leonhart’s classic “Me and Lenny” had an astonishingly oblique other-worldliness. Pure joy. A very special gig.

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