The Ronnie Scotts All Stars - Jazz Classics
(RSR001. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Ronnie Scott's has its own record label. Again. Which is right, and the CD is a good and joyful thing.
The CD Jazz Classics has catalogue number RSR001. I know what's coming. Some are going to argue that it isn't REALLY No 1.... that Ronnie Scotts has a whole history of previous recordings. While we're at it, the pedant might also question whether all the songs are in fact “Jazz Classics.” Whatevs.
The CD, recorded partly in front of an audience, and partly - in the same acoustic of the club - without one, works well as a showcase for the house trio of Ronnie Scotts music director James Pearson – piano/arranger, Sam Burgess – bass, and Pedro Segundo - drums, who regularly play the early evening slot at Ronnie's. They often have to work their socks off to distract the Ronnie's punters from their workaday conversations and to concentrate on the music. Which they do brilliantly. Night after night. Segundo's charm and theatricality have, in a very short time, become a fixture. The sleeve notes have a touching reminder of the tragic death of Ronnie's house drummer Chris Dagley, which is still sorely felt at the club.
But the thought of this being the 1 stayed in the mind. The reason that the front line of this quintet, vocalist Natalie Williams and saxophonist Alex Garnett work so well as sparring partners is what they do with the 1, the first beat.
Williams asserts it, lands hard on it, possesses it, reinforces it, often decorates it with an inverted mordent. Her work here is an affirmation. That originally Italian song "More than the Greatest Love" has probably never been performed with quite this level of conviction, of complete persuasiveness.
She has a German heritage, and brings something personal and different to this music. There is a German word "betonen" - untranslatable (?) - which just seems to me to describe well how Natalie Williams has a way of living on, at, with every first beat.
As a result Williams produces her best singing on record yet. RSR001 is Natalie on peak form. The words get the treatment. Rickie Lee Jones' Dat Dere is characterful, teasing, hilarious, with some magic on the side-drum rim from Segundo, and Johnny Griffin-ish tenor swagger from Garnett. But there's more: check out inimitable, ecstatic Natalie lion-house noises at 2' 16” and 5' 16” of Bye Bye Blackbird. We'll offer a prize for the best transcription.
As for Garnett, in the legacy of Hank Mobley, the saxophonist responds to the first beat, uses it as a springboard, hides behind it teasingly (as in “I can see you but you can't see me” ), suggests it, tricks it, avoids it, finds surreptitious ways to lose it. What the hell, it's something you can always pick up from lost property in the morning, because with a rhythm section of this class, it's going to be there anyway.
As on his debut CD Serpent (Whirlwind Records, 2011), Garnett stakes his claim to be among the most inventive and subtle saxophonists we have.
The CD is cheery, life-affirming, and will work superbly as what the Japanese call "Omiyage", a present from a specific place - check the references to Frith Street in Lionel Bart's “On the Street Where you Live.”
RSR001 contains good music, well played and recorded, and is an ideal means to remember, and keep in the memory, our No 1 Jazz club, Ronnie Scott's.