Review: Jazz in the Round

Steve Williamson
Cockpit Theatre, 30th January 2012.
Photo credit Patrick Hadfield. All Rights Reserved

Jazz in the Round
(Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, NW1. 30th January 2012. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

With a new monthly jazz night at the Cockpit Theatre, Jez Nelson’s aims “to bring together bands and artists from different scenes, genres, cultures and generations”. Judging from a diverse bill, this promise will be kept.

Three bands on appear on each bill: one solo performer, one lesser known band and one comprised of more familiar names, all playing something akin to jazz in its varied forms, all at a bargain price of £7.

Opening this new series was the Yazz Ahmed Trio, with an unusual line up of Ahmed on flugelhorn, Ralph Wyld on vibes and Dave Mannington on guitar. This was gentle, melodic music: Ahmed’s playing seemed flawless and her tone mellifluous, whilst Wyld’s vibes had a beautiful clarity.

In the second set, Stuart McCallum played solo guitar – supported by effects and backing courtesy of his computer to create large scale, symphonic soundscapes. He played a radical reinterpretation of “Softly As A Morning Sunrise”, only briefly approaching the familiar theme as he ground some fascinating sounds from his guitar. The other tunes he played were all originals, simple in their conception – one based on the chords from Oasis’ “Wonderwall”, driven by having to teach the tune to Mancunian schoolkids – but complex in their delivery as he built layer upon layer of sound. McCallum doesn’t think of his music as jazz, and it is certainly at one extreme of the sprectrum, but it was engaging music of quality.

The headliners for the evening were Black Top, the first outing for this new trio of Steve Williamson, looking very Prezidential in a pork-pie hat, on tenor and soprano saxophones, Orphy Robinson on marimba and Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics. Playing wholly improvised music, they spanned several genres in their short set, meeting Nelson’s criteria for the evening all on their own. They displayed a deep understanding of each others’ music, as themes started by one player were picked up by another, notes spiralling around the trio. Each has a distinctive, powerful voice. Thomas’s piano was superlative and inventive, his left hand sometimes laying down a solid rhythm whilst his right made jagged runs up and down the keys – a disturbing juxtaposition of form and freedom. His electronics provided a variety of effects from chimes to white noise, sometimes being more of a distraction. Robinson’s marimba provided a warm, human touch, and Williamson’s intense saxophone playing provided touches of familiarity as well as exploration.

This was a fascinating night’s music, and the audience listened intently, keeping Nelson’s request that we respect the music – all save a photographer who wandered about with his camera audibly clicking at the quietest moments. The Cockpit Theatre sits the audience on all four sides of the stage, so we surrounded the musicians – this really was jazz in the round. It certainly felt very intimate, watching musicians be so creative, so close.

Jazz in the Round, supported by Loudwater Partners, is on the last Monday of each month

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