Review: Loose Tubes at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Loose Tubes, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk . All Rights Reserved

Loose Tubes 
(The Big Top. Cheltenham Jazz Festival. 3rd May 2014. Review by Luke Davidson)

Thirty years ago, a London band took the British jazz scene by the scruff of its neck. It did it with a huge range of instruments, it did it by drawing inspiration from a world music, and it did it with panache. Now, twenty-four years on after their last gig, with lives now transformed by the internet and scarred by Simon Cowell, it has woken again. Armed with new commissions from Radio 3, the twenty-one strong Loose Tubes is back again with almost all of its original members and as strong, and as challenging, as ever. Cheltenham Festivals is to be congratulated that Loose Tubes have chosen Cheltenham to shout out again their unique blend of life-affirmation.

It was a tremendous gig. If you ever find yourself in a life and death situation that depends on your being able to time something to perfection, you could do no better than calling in any of the band. The extraordinary switching of tempo, of feel, of groove, the sudden drop into a new time signature, is a wonderful characteristic of their music. You have to want it, though. You have to want variation, spice, difference, change. It’s easy to call it anarchic, too easy. There is behind it, of course, the hard structures, the discipline, of musical skill and organisation. But it is unpredictable and there is an awful lot in it.

DjangoBates in Loose Tubes, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk . All Rights Reserved


At the heart of the performance was the mercurial Django Bates, wearing his cerise trilby, and weaving spells from the keyboard, ferociously driving the pulse. But it is not a one man show; it remains a resolutely democratic outfit with different band members conducting and leading from tune to tune. Trombonist Ashley Slater compered the afternoon’s revels with the deftness of a stand-up and Eddie Parker upset anyone with a sense of decorum with those stripy black trousers. Members of the band had travelled far and wide to be there; there was a real sense of occasion, of excitement. But this was not a nostalgia trip. This is not a band that’s cashing in; it is still on a musical journey, still on its own adventure.

Twenty years ago, Loose Tubes would perhaps have been called ‘postmodern’, when saying the word ‘postmodern’ would get you cred. among boffins. Their music is so eclectic, a bricolage of different soundscapes, all of them parodied and re-affirmed simultaneously. The same spirit suffused the gig. De Sousa marching bands, British seaside brass ensembles, reggae parties, Reichian polyrhythms swirled and blended together. The new compositions from Eddie Parker, Chris Batchelor and Django Bates were very strong, all drawing on all the multi-faceted nature of the orchestra, not to mention the stamina of the band. What I found absolutely fascinating was the band’s exploration in atonality. What would Schoenberg have thought to have witnessed his music swung? The trademark humour of the band’s music and performance reverberated throughout, too. The band often gets close to transcendental moments, only to puncture it or abandon it in favour of some new diversion.


IaianBallamy in Loose Tubes, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk . All Rights Reserved


As befitting the UK”s top jazz musicians, the solos were of great quality; lovely and passionate turns from Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart (whose knees shake at moments of maximum combustion), John Parricelli, and others. Drummer Martin France was a revelation, keeping the fires stoked with total authority. And, what an English performance it was! Not for a Loose Tube member the razmatazz, the showmanship of a Kurt Elling (on tremendous form the night before); as soon as the solo was over, the head tended to duck, and it was scurry, scurry off the stage. Ah, well. There was plenty of charisma and musical fireworks aplenty to compensate. And I am sure for the majority of the audience, who had not seen Loose Tubes before, the concert was a revelation.

Welcome back, Loose Tubes! Fire it up!

Lineup: 

Flutes: EDDIE PARKER, Clarinets: DAI PRITCHARD Alto / Soprano saxophones: STEVE BUCKLEY & IAIN BALLAMY. Tenor Saxophone: MARK LOCKHEART & JULIAN NICHOLAS Baritone: JULIAN ARGUELLES

Trumpets: LANCE KELLY, NOEL LANGLEY, CHRIS BATCHELOR, JOHN EACOTT, 

Trombones: JOHN HARBORNE, ASHLEY SLATER, RICHARD PYWELL, Bass Trombone: RICHARD HENRY Tuba: DAVE POWELL, 

Keyboards: DJANGO BATES Guitar: JOHN PARRICELLI, Bass: STEVE WATTS, Drums: MARTIN FRANCE, Percussion: LOUISE PETERSEN MATJEKA 

Loose Tubes are in residency at Ronnie Scott's from May 5th to 10th. All nights are sold out.

7 comments:

  1. I was there! Every word is true!

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  2. Incredible gig. Joyous, life affirming stuff. Music to be experienced, not defined by era, genre or instrumentation. Sounded as fresh and relevant today as 24 years ago!

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  3. What did happen to Dave DeFries? Was he mentioned?

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  4. It was an extraordinary gig, a privilege to have been there, and this review captures it very nicely!

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  5. Shame my old mucker Steve Day (the original 2nd trombone) wasn't on stage with em. But a phenomenal gig by any standard.

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  6. Huge congratulations - to every one of Loose Tubes (and Steve Berry) for a magnificent, magnificent gig - all the old fire and joy with the added benefit of 24 years more musicianship - one of the most thrilling gigs of the decade!! Congrats, too, to Tony Dudley-Evans for making it happen - the Loose Tubes 'comeback' (were they ever really away for people like Tony, me and thousands more fans?) was the absolute centrepiece of his jazz festival programme.

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  7. A truly brilliant performance at every level. Loose Tubes are one of the best bands in the world ever. Let's hope they keep this alive and kicking!

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