REVIEW: Ruby Rushton at Ronnie Scott's

Ruby Rushton in an earlier line-up
Photo from band's Bandamp site
Ruby Rushton
(Ronnie Scott’s. 23 November 2017. Review by Gail Tasker)

It’s rare to hear a flautist at Ronnie’s. There has been Yusef Lateef, who incidentally had a tune dedicated to him in Thursday’s set with Prayer for Yusef. Roland Kirk, whose raw tone was felt in Edward Cawthorne’s playing. Hermeto Pascoal performed there a few years ago, and the band matched him in terms of the variety of percussion on display. In fact, the up-and-coming South London-based band Ruby Rushton showcased a variety of influences, ranging from hip hop beats to funk to spiritual modal jazz.

The beret-clad Cawthorne led the band on flute, synthesizer, and tenor saxophone. Nick Walters was also on the front line, playing trumpet and percussion. Aiden Sheperd played grand and electric piano, whilst Fergus Ireland was on electric and double bass. The rhythm section also included Eddie Hick on kit and Joe Deenmamode on congas and percussion. Together, the musicians produced a hugely varied palette of sound which went far beyond the means of a typical sextet.

The band played a mixture of songs from their most recent albums, Trudi’s Songbook Vol. One and Two, dedicated to Cawthorne’s mother who also happened to be in the audience. In fact, there was a somewhat homely vibe: a cheer went up when Cawthorne announced the tune Tilsbury Truckin', a homage to his home town. It was their first time at the venue as a band, and yet they couldn’t have been more relaxed. Although they have been growing in popularity this past year, Ruby Rushton have been around for a while, having recorded their debut quartet album in 2011. They have gone from strength to strength, signed to the hip London-based label 22a.

An interesting feature was the mix of sounds and styles that the musicians could produce in a single song. A tune might begin with a collective free improvisation, before settling into a funk-riddled bass groove. The piece Elephant and Castle had a Latin edge, complete with a clave rhythm, joy-inducing melodic riffs, and fast-moving flute solos. In contrast, Prayer for Yusef was much more spiritual in mood. Ireland maintained the same three-note riff throughout the long piece with an intensity and high level of engagement that was astounding.

Different textures were also explored with the use of electronics. Cawthorne’s saxophone playing had effects, as did Walters’ trumpet. The sounds ranged from a whole band dynamic in the free sections, to a quite but intense duet between bass and flute. At one point, there was highly developed rhythmic interplay between at least three cowbells. The musicians were not inhibited, with Cawthorne embracing extended techniques in his flute improvisation, including singing whilst playing in the style of '60s prog rock and Herbie Mann. Sheperd also didn’t hold back, muting the piano strings and playing in a more percussive manner at certain points.

The band injected a sense of life and animation into the Ronnie’s atmosphere, and I’m sure that some audience members were in agreement as Cawthorne joked that their set should have been triple-billed.

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