Review: Nick Costley-White, Mike Chillingworth, Conor Chaplin at Bel Air House, Dulwich

Bel Air House
Nick Costley-White, Mike Chillingworth, Conor Chaplin
(Wednesday Night Jazz at Bel Air House, West Dulwich. 30th April 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

What took me down to West Dulwich on Wednesday, International Jazz Day, was the chance to hear a new weekly jazz series which has now been going for a month or so. The surroundings are fabulous: Bel Air House, one of the finest Georgian villas in London, was built in the 1780's in the style of Robert Adam. That it should be open to the public, that admission should be just the price of a drink somehow feels miraculous. The house, overlooking its own park, is in Gallery Road, a very short walk from West Dulwich station,

We had a drink outside on the terrace, supper in the restaurant, then listened properly to the second set. It was all rather blissful and made for a very special evening. The open, welcoming, airy sounds of tunes like Sam Rivers' Beatrice or Darn that Dream were wafting their way through the building.

The band on Wednesday was a trio led by a young guitarist with his roots in the local community, Nick Costley-White. He is a tall, thoughtful and genial presence in a band, and is starting to get noticed. He is a classy player with an elegant and subtle way with a good tune. Costley-White is also an instigator: he has done great things to build a following for the monthly Jazz Nursery gig at Arch 61 in Southwark, now established as a cornerstone musician-led gig which consistently presents the best the young London scene.

His company for the evening consisted of the lyrical and imaginative alto saxophonist Mike Chillingworth, with a gorgeous sound and sense of line.. His 'out' playing was controlled, reminiscent in many ways of the very best of Art Pepper. He is an impressive player in larger, louder, more experimental units like Troy-kestra, but he owns this context just as convincingly.

Another player often heard in freakier surroundings than this is bassist Conor Chaplin. In this setting he was a revelation. He has a wonderful capacity to communicate the joy of having just landed on a new idea, a texture, line, a rhythmic kick, to produce endlessly the sound of surprise. The listener never gets bored. And he's great to watch in action: Chaplin also often lapses into that smiling, innocent facial expression well-known to football fans and referees as " What? Offside? Me?" A star.



Nick Costley-White, Conor Chaplin, Mike Chillingworth at Bel Air House

The new team running Bel Air House has been in place since November, and has set out its stall very clearly to the people of Dulwich on the Bel Air House website:

“This elegant Georgian Mansion has a beautiful, individual style and our aim is to bring the community back to this wonderful location on the edge of Belair Park in Dulwich. We have an open house policy here at Belair and have created a space for all to enjoy [... ]we feel there will be something here for everyone.”

The words 'bring' and 'back' are significant here. (Dulwich) Village people I met on Wednesday night told me that, until the very recent refurbishment, new floors etc., the building had been left in a state of arrested decay, anf people have got into the habit of staying at a safe distance. The folk of Dulwich use the park a lot - it is the perfect place, I was told, for the first removal of the stabiliser wheels on a child's bicycle - but they don't, yet, find much reason to venture into Bel Air House itself.

There is quite a bit more about the story and the vision of the new owners and good pictures on the Dulwich on View site.

The restaurant management admit that they are at the stage of trying things out, seeking opinions ( a lot of those to be had in Dulwich). The portions are incredibly generous. Our perfectly cooked chips disappeared very quickly. The classic céleri rémoulade, served as a starter was ideal. Think very high end gastropub. On the other hand, the funkier end of their cocktail menu, which included such things as "Night at the Picture House" complete with popcorn and cream... was definitely for less timid souls than us.

There can be doubts whether Bel Air House is now sufficiently different, sufficiently 'destination' to lure the people of Dulwich in quantities. But what's not to like? Wednesday jazz with free admission in a lovely room in a Georgian villa felt to me like the first sound of summer.

Calendar to the end of June:
May 7th Rory Simmons
May 14th, Ned Bennett
May 21st—Luke Annesley /Dave Cliff on Guitar/ Julie Walkington
May 28th Jim Howard
June 4th Dave O'Higgins, /Pete Whittaker /Seb de Krom
June 11th—Ned Bennett
June 18th— Danny Marsden with Louise Marshall
June 25th—Phil Veacock Band.

TIMINGS: 19:30—22:00pm in the downstairs bar; 2-4-1 cocktails; £10.95 beer & burgers deal.

MORE INFORMATION: Bel Air House on Facebook /Bel Air House website

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