REVIEW: Jazz on 3 final show / Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre

Django Bates playing tenor horn
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


'Jazz on 3' final show
(Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre, 29th February 2016; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

'The last ever Jazz on 3' was not so much a wake as a celebration of all that is vibrant and artistically rich in the broad church of jazz and improvisation today. Jez Nelson, introducing this live recording from the Cockpit's beautiful theatre in the round, said his voice might break from a mixture of his cold and emotion on the occasion which closed the door on 18 years of broadcasting and around 1,000 shows as the BBC's flagship contemporary jazz platform.

In a carefully balanced programme, affirming the quality and diversity in the British scene, each in Nelson's 'dream list' of musicians had accepted the invitation to perform in front of the full house which included many from the business, as well as friends and family, who had come to show their support for this most vital of platforms for the best in the left field of British and international contemporary jazz.

Empirical, soon to celebrate ten years as a quartet, still maintain the aura of tightly disciplined, creatively-driven firebrands and, as Nelson commented, in their formal suits, are still the best dressed combo around! Hot from a week as a pop-up 'jazz shop' at Old Street, the award-winning band previewed numbers from their new album, Connection. Kicking off with syncopated hand-clapping which ticked the spirit of New Orleans, they shifted gears in to a demanding, nuanced mix of Lewis Wright's shimmering, softly-hued vibes, Nathaniel Facey's Dolphy-esque alto sax tensions and rolling, bounding bass and drum rhythms from Tom Farmer and Shane Forbes.

Lewis Wright and Nathaniel Facey of Empirical
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


Django Bates had flown in specially from Switzerland to be present. An interview with Bates had been Nelson's first assignment for the programme in 1998. Opening on thumb piano, Bates's quirky new song, penned for the event, wittily explored the psychology of 'a piano and a man meeting for the first time', with something of the disarming surreality of Ivor Cutler. Bates's uniquely idiosyncratic mixture of the mildly absurd with stunningly accomplished jazz piano that swung, drifted dreamily, and took on latin and township lilts, plus a flurry of Eb horn interventions, said so much about the rich invention that resides in the 'fabric of jazz' of which, Nelson, said, Bates had become a part.

Ending proceedings on a high note were 'our last ever quartet to appear on Jazz on 3', the cross-generational improvising group, playing together for the first time, of Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alex Hawkins (piano), Orphy Robinson (marimba) and Evan Parker (sax). Jurd put down sharp, confident bursts of phrasing and scrawny, tight screeches. Robinson built up welling, softly under-the-radar undercurrents that flipped in to funk, while Hawkins both trickled and romped across the keyboards and Parker knowingly picked his moments to flutter and fly. An essential shared understanding kept it all on-track as overlapping figures and rhythms were passed on and around - or as Paul Klee might have said, 'taken for a walk' - with light and fanciful touches abounding.

Nelson paid tribute to Evan Parker who had generously advised Jazz on 3 throughout its term, and to colleagues and those in the industry who had been so supportive, and brought on stage Paul Nixon, 'the best man on the deck', responsible for so many of its live mixes. John Cumming of Serious made an impromptu tribute to Nelson, and presented him with a scroll with multiple signatures.

Nelson then passed on the baton to the new Jazz Now programme, to be presented by Soweto Kinch (memorable, not least, for his hilarious repartee with Robert Glasper on Jazz on 3 in 2010), and expressed delight in going back to Jazz FM to present his own Something Else show on Saturday nights starting in April, and to continue to host Jazz in the Round, to tie up a fittingly memorable and upbeat evening.

This show will be broadcast by Radio 3 on March 28th

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