Review: Iain Ballamy’s Anorak at St. James Studio

Photo Credit: Rupert Parker


Review: Iain Ballamy’s Anorak
(St. James Studio, Friday 15th March 2013. Review and Photograph by Rupert Parker)


St. James Studio is a new 100 capacity venue, in the basement of the St. James Theatre, also recently opened last September. It’s running a series called Jazz and Roots Fridays and was the perfect venue for Iain Ballamy’s Anorak on a cold and windy March evening in Victoria. With Gareth Williams on piano, Steve Watts on bass and Martin France on drums, this is a quartet that deals in lyricism and understatement and their ensemble work is peerless.

Iain Ballamy's playing is full of invention and he seems to have inherited the Ronnie Scott mantel of dry one-liner introductions. When I first came across him, at Wavendon Summer School, almost too long ago to remember, he was playing alto and his tenor playing seems to have inherited some of the characteristics of that instrument. There’s no place for honks and squawks, and he reserves a considered space for melody, so much so that the written lines spin seamlessly into his improvisations.

They started off with Jobim’s Once I Loved but after that it was self-penned originals, including Lavender Eyes and Floater. Even on the witty stand-out “Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s Tribute to John Coltrane” there was no evidence of Ballamy mistreating his instrument, the band firmly behind him in the groove, providing exactly the right level of subtlety that this venue demands. True to the ensemble spirit, individual members did not outstay their solo spots and there was a very pleasant I Fall in Love Too Easily sung by Gareth Williams at the end.

I was very impressed by the space and the acoustics here are so good, and the crowd so quiet, that there’s no real need for amplification. Tables are arranged tastefully round the room and even the bar is far enough from the stage that it doesn’t distract. Special mention must also be made of the Carrara at St. James restaurant upstairs which does an excellent two course meal. Dorian Ford is programming Jazz and Roots Fridays so get along and support this new venue – you won’t be disappointed.

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