REVIEW: The Enemy/ Can of Worms at the Con Cellar Bar (2015 EFG LJF)

George Crowley (second from left) and Can of Worms

The Enemy/ Can of Worms
Con Cellar Bar, NW1. 20th November. 2015 EFG LJF)

“I did my first gig with my own band here” says Kit Downes, “with James”, nodding at James Maddren sat a few feet away behind the kit. We didn’t get to hear how that first gig went, but as we reached the finale of this double header of dangerously named bands led by Downes and George Crowley respectively, there was no mistaking the loudly declared verdict of the packed in audience at the Con Cellar Bar (where no-one is more than a few feet away from the piano).

The evening had started with a bang, Crowley’s tenor delivering a hooting declamatory solo statement as a prelude to the throbbing, rolling pulse built from Sam Lasserson’s bass snapping out interlocking rhythms with Jon Scott’s driving momentum from the drums. Dan Nicholls launched a solo from the piano that built wave on wave of stacked rhythms and glittering runs. The tumult gave way to a five-way improvisation, the other half of the twin tenor line-up, Tom Challenger joining in. The intensity never slackened. Wendy drove the Gangstas out told a story (allegedly of the pub upstairs), from shapeshfting moods to another pulsing climax, Last Days’, lusty, exuberantly stated melody evolved through a rumbustious clatter and conversational group blowing, Crowley and Challenger egging each other on. The pieces evolved through tightly scripted sections, looping vamps with solo and collective blowing, sudden oases of texture and moods, always sounding as if it was rooted in where jazz has come from. Thrilling stuff.

The Enemy: Kit Downes, Petter Eldh, James Maddren

The Enemy, Downes’ new (ish) trio, took the floor after a short break, Sam Lasserson doing a second stint on bass substituting for the absent Peter Eldh. They plunged us straight into Faster than Light an intense brew of overlapping, jagged pulses, the trio working like a Rubik’s cube of motifs – fizzing runs and patterns exploding in all directions from the piano. As the set developed, there was light, shade and austere, beautiful melody pushing through the layers of rhythm that stitched each piece together. Cellist Lucy Railton sat in for another pattern weaving seething piece, adding another dimension to quick-fire lines doubled with the bass. Then they rocked out on Race to the Sun, Downes letting rip, the long detailed runs painting traces of melody and bluesy inflection across the hubbub.

Both leaders mused on the significance of ‘The Con’ bar during the evening and its importance over the last decade to young bands trying new music and ideas in front of audiences. If that had a slight valedictory air to it, the performance of these two bands was an exuberant, scintillating demonstration of the what happens when talents mature. Another evening of breath-taking, top class music.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

Mike Collins' review of a gig at the Con Cellar Bar in the 2014 EFG LJF
RIP Richard Turner, who instigated the jazz series at the Con Cellar Bar 
George Crowley remembering Richard Turner in 2011
Details of the Richard Turner Scholarship Fund

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