REVIEW: Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet at the Con Cellar Bar (2017 EFG LJF)

Golden Age of Steam at the Con Cellar Bar
L-R: James Allsopp, Ruth Goller,
Alex Bonney, Kit Downes


Golden Age of Steam/ Ivo Neame Quartet
(Con Cellar Bar. 17 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)


The Con Cellar Jazz team surpassed themselves with this double bill. As Golden Age of Steam reached an ecstatic, tumultuous climax under the direction of James Allsopp, after nearly 45 minutes of steadily accumulating intensity, drummer Tim Giles mouthed ‘whoa’ to himself and the packed cellar bar seemed to sway, trance-like, as one. It was epic.

But this was a double bill and the first set had been no less compelling, with a set of originals from Ivo Neame on Rhodes and a small Mellotron, with a great band of drummer James Maddren, Tom Farmer on bass and Con Cellar impresario and tenor man, George Crowley. Neame’s keyboard imbued the sound with a warm glow as they took off through a set of distinctive small band compositions, some built around alluring, not-quite-sweet melodies, others developing looping angular hooks and contrasting passages. Vegetarians had a funky edge and could almost have been re-cast Monk tune, Parlour was all hanging phrases and moody textures over a shuffling beat, Spaceballs moved through episodes and centred around a burn-up, Crowley really letting fly. In these hands the music soared and swooped. Neame is a prodigious improviser, seeming to find some hook deep inside a tune and expand and develop it until and ideas bursts into bloom. Maddren’s drumming was as remarkable as ever, somehow articulating every swell and eddy of a piece. The ballad Outsider segued via a Neame solo meditation, into a bubbling, optimistic vibe that finished with the exuberant skitter of drums and a triumphant dead stop.

 After a brief scatological introduction from Allsopp, Golden Age of Steam embarked on Loftopus. Alex Bonney conjured rumbles and squeaks whilst Ruth Goller, Kit Downes and Giles waited, scrutinising their scripts and looking for Allsopp’s cue. This was a master-class in space, timing and patience. Eventually fragments of keening sax, gently traced sparkling keyboard, droning bass all crept in. Drums clattered, live electronics re-cycled and added, layers accumulated and momentum imperceptibly developed. When Allsopp cued an insistent, chanting theme, it seemed somehow obvious, a throbbing pulse had evolved and a glorious, transcendental hubbub unfolded. There was just time for another, shorter trip, initiated by singing an Ivor Cutler lyric. It’s a fair bet that Cutler never envisaged a setting for his lyrics like this, as the walls bulged with the volcanic tumult from Giles. It was an exhilarating end to a remarkable evening.

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

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