John Escreet/The Story at the Con Cellar Bar, Monday March 16th
Review by Steve Plumb
On Monday nights, the Con Cellar Bar in Camden brings rising jazz talent to an enthusiastic listening audience. The gig is in the basement of a very traditional London pub called The Constitution, adjacent to the Regents Canal. The Cellar Bar is located right next to the tow-path.
It is now more than two years since John Escreet left England to expand his horizons in New York. Escreet's talent and drive were apparent to anyone who attended his Musicians' Company prize gig in 2004. But for this Con Cellar Bar gig, he had brought with him four other young lions from New York, who together constitute a band intriguingly called The Story. They were fresh from a show at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, and had three upcoming gigs in London in their schedule.
The line-up of alto sax (Lars Dietrich), tenor sax (Samir Zarif), bass (Zack Lober) and drums (Greg Ritchie) , with Escreet himself on Fender Rhodes unfolded its story before a captivated audience. The Con Bar's Fender Rhodes, donated by Kit Downes in early 2008 is now looking eviscerated, wires and innards on view to all.
The Story made a nod in the direction of Ornette Coleman's free-form style. But this was no self-indulgent collective: it had a lot more of the form, and less of the free about it; the screeds of manuscript which shrouded Escreet's keyboard were carefully crafted compositions. The complex rhythmic passages (where Escreet and the band played well off each other) displayed a Zappa-esqe sense of orchestration. Exciting stuff: those few members of the audience at the Con lucky enough to get seats were perched right on the edge of them.
The compositions brought a vast range of tone colours and rhythmic fireworks. The two saxes worked seamlessly together in plaintive harmony. I could sense an audience really moved. In contrast, there were moments of extreme excitement as Escreet and the other rhythm-section players locked in with each other. The Story does seem a meticulously rehearsed and very cohesive unit.
The gig left an overall impression that John Escreet has benefited beyond all measure by his move across the pond. Studying with Kenny Barron, playing as a regular member of David Binney's band, working with Wayne Krantz... it all adds up to a growing maturity and purpose.
The tight space of the Con Cellar bar was an ideal place to hear this band. I shall definitely be braving the Northern Line on a Monday night to catch another gig there. And soon.