Review: Jean Toussaint/ Julian Siegel Quintet at Ronnie Scott's

Jean Toussaint/ Julian Siegel Quintet
(Ronnie Scott's. 29th July 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The astonishing bench-strength, the level of talent just waiting there in the wings in the London jazz scene has been proved yet again. Pharaoh Sanders had suddenly flown back to the US and cancelled his remaining UK dates, including two nights at Ronnie Scott's. Reasons of ill health were cited (although conspiracy theorists on social media seemed to have other ideas). This left a gap. A gap is an opportunity, which Ronnie Scott's management filled particularly imaginatively, both for last night and for tonight. There are spaces. Go.

So where do you go looking to find a last-minute replacement for Pharaoh Sanders? Answer: the lower slopes of Highgate Hill, because there you find Jean Toussaint. Toussaint was born in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, and by the age of 26 he had already had four years as a Art Blakey Jazz Messenger. Having thus proved himself at the highest level, his credentials as a world-class tenor saxophonist never were, are probably never will be in doubt. He plays with presence, imagination, class - and also with the ease and the geniality of a man who has chosen to live his life grounded in N8 and in his much-admired teaching, rather than dragging a suitcase around the world with him. He plays in a constant state of motion, occupying a far larger space than if he were to remain static, and the freedom he has in every aspect of his playing are remarkable. He also enlisted a phenomenal sparring partner on saxophones, Julian Siegel. Before last night the two hadn't played in any context for well over a year, and the process of them musically greeting each other at the very highest level, each progressively absorbing and internalizing the other's language was just fascinating to watch. It will go further tonight. Their sounds are different, Siegel's more penetrating, probably produced with a softer reed (?) but there too, the imitiation and collaboration tends to lead to reinforcement and complementarity rather than the contest and the one-upmanship which are popularly imagined. As the evening moved on, the listening and the infectious sense of enjoyment of each other's playing intensified. Spurred on by the rhythm section - and arguably also by the aura still left in the club from Wynton Marsalis last week - they began to swing, and hard, on tunes like Wayne Shorter's Fee Fi Fo Fum. 

The classiness of this band is not limited to the front line. Pianist Jason Rebello also had a rocket-fuelled start to his jazz career, but has spent many years in rock stadia as a core band member with the likes of Sting and Jeff Beck. With every back-beat head nod, every springy touch of the sustain pedal, Rebello communicates quite how joyful he is to be returning to jazz.  Rebello also has that range of sound from the lightest droplet of two or three notes in the right hand to the "how-many-hands-has-this-guy-got?" Oscar Peterson full works. And all the points in between. There were wonderful moments when Siegel picked up a solo from Rebello (these to have hardly ever worked together, if at all?), re-stating one of the pianist's closing phrases and then moving on from it. The quality of listening is extraordinary. Oli Hayhurst is a powerful, supportive bass player, and drummer Gene Calderazzo's gradual adoption of the irresistible vibe of collective enjoyment on the stand, and his contributions to it, were to be treasured.

Pharaoh Sanders was - sort of - present too. The band clearly enjoyed the raucous spaciousness of tunes like The Creator Has A Master Plan and You've Got to Have Freedom. 

The support band, Gareth Williams' Trio  also invoked - poignantly - the theme of absence, devoting their last number to to the late Chris Dagley, the third anniversary of whose death passed on Sunday. (At LondonJazz we don't forget him: THIS PAGE with tributes is the most-read ever in the whole time our site has been running). Laurence Cottle was in his element both in the supporting role and as fleet-fingered, endlessly inventive soloist. Chris Higginbottom gave the "intensity and sheer commitment" which Chris Parker spotted when he reviewed his debut album as leader . New to me were Gareth Williams' characterful singing and his witty, friendly introductions. Shut your eyes and it's as if you have the pleasure of listening to a mellifluous and hugely musical Richard Burton.  More please, definitely.

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