Review: Howard Alden / Mark Crooks/ Simon Woolf in Beaconsfield

Howard Alden

Howard Alden / Mark Crooks/ Simon Woolf
(Va Pensiero, Beaconsfield, Bucks . 10th March 2014. Review by Peter Vacher

There’s an honourable tradition of jazz in unlikely places in this country, so to see as distinguished a US visitor as guitarist Howard Alden pitch up to play in the well-heeled town of Beaconsfield was really no surprise at all. Turns out he was on a short visit to the UK and had hooked up with bassist Simon Woolf for a few selected dates and happily for the diners in this Italian restaurant, these included a starring appearance in the latest of their monthly presentations. With Woolf as a lyrical third voice, the trio was completed by the on-form clarinettist and tenor-saxophonist Mark Crooks, their unfussy machinations like a small-scale master class in improvisatory interplay.

Alden plays a seven-string, enabling him to build complex solo lines, each excursion like an exercise in ingenuity, yet he was content to fall into an alternative role as rhythm guitarist as Crooks soared away. This musician, his pedigree including his participation in the high-profile John Wilson concert series, knows how to improve a melody, in fast-moving or slow-ballad style, letting his clarinet tone do the work on something like One Morning In May before strapping on the tenor for a hectic version of Just In Time, his breaks in stop-time mode just the ticket.

Woolf’s arco playing and brushed chords enhanced these numbers, his walking bass aiding Alden as he created intensity, perhaps their best of the night coming with the final Lady Be Good with their canny variations based on Lester Young’s classic reading bespeaking a common language before the melody itself emerged momentarily, blinking in the unexpected gaze of these fine players.

Should you fancy some prime jazz with your risotto, it’s the wily trombonist and bandleader Gordon Campbell (see our feature) next time (April 7).  

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