REVIEW: Simon Allen Quintet / Nonet at the 606

Steve Rubie introducing the band for the first set

Simon Allen Quintet/ Nonet 

(606 Club. 12th April 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This gig brought to my mind a scene from Moliere's The Miser (Act 3 Scene 1). The character Maitre Jacques gets so irked that he has to act as both cook and driver for his cheapskate boss, he insists on putting a different hat on for each role, and makes it clear that he will only take instructions for one of his jobs at any one time.

So, why has this review started with a random and even obscure French lit tangent? Because, for jazz musicians, what is required, what is completely normal is the exact opposite of Maitre Jacques: they are expected to combine all of their roles, and to function in them and to traverse from one to another seamlessly, and do them all well, and in public, and in real time.

And if that is true in general, it is particularly true for Simon Allen. He has a particularly assured and structured way - even when struggling with a cold as he was last night - of simultaneously occupying of all of his many roles: alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist, bandleader, arranger, composer, and Head of Jazz at the Purcell School. Last night he seemed to required to act as stage manager and librarian too. As well as general enthuser and inspirer of some ferociously talented young players, with the additional pressure of some parents looking on...(is that ten functions or eleven?)

As an alto player Allen has a strong, full and penetrating lead alto sound, and astonishing technical facility. On tenor he also gives that sense of things being said definitively. I was reminded of the sheer persuasiveness of the sound of, say, George Adams.

For the first half he was - apart from one exception - with his regular quintet, playing originals and specifically crafted arrangements.  Trumpeter Martin Shaw was his eloquent self, often delighting himself - and the audience -  in inserting those unexpected unobvious "out" notes into a line. Tom Cawley is another constant source of unexpected delight. Drummer Mike Bradley navigated all of the tricky twists and turns in Allen's arrangements without flinching or straying.

The exception in the band, in place of regular electric bassist Laurence Cottle, was an 18-year old player who is something of a phenomenon, Manchester-born Seth Tackaberry. He just seemed completely in command, whether joining in the rapid-fire bebop head to Vincent Herring's Folklore, or chordal soloing, or punctuating and grounding a Tom Cawley right hand solo - both of those on Three's a Crowd. He's hugely impressive, certainly a name to watch out for....and he hasn't even started at music college yet (!)

Seth Tackaberry
I heard a little of the second half in which four more young jazz musicians still at the Purcell School  were added. They really are top talents: Alexandra Ridout has already won BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year. Sean Payne is being casually referred to as the next Nigel Hitchcock, a by-word among London sax players for "watch out." and there was trombonist Daniel Higham and baritone saxophonist Nick Willsher. The proficiency and assurance of all of these young players is both inspiring and daunting. And Simon Allen is clearly helping them all to aim very high indeed.

The nonet in the second half 
Further performances by this quintet-then-nonet group are listed on Simon Allen's website.

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