PREVIEW: Pizza Express Jazz Club's April-July highlights

Nicholas Payton
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We all know how rich and diverse jazz is these days, but it’s also sometimes useful to be reminded… Peter Bacon has been looking at what’s coming up in the next few months at Pizza Express Jazz Club, and his appetite has been well and truly whetted.

It’s all here, it seems. Visiting veterans from across the Atlantic, youthful (sometimes extremely so) contributors to that grand tradition, highly individual voices, highly integrated groups, opportunities to glimpse behind the finished art to see how it’s constructed, career-encompassing reappraisals of recorded output.

Maybe there is too much to take in all at once, so here are the five gigs that strike me as exceptionally tempting, to consider in this time of relief and expectation: that Spring seems to be coming at last, and surely there is a fine Summer to follow.

First up in my menu of delights is trumpeter Nicholas Payton. I first heard Nick live way back in the mid-‘90s at North Sea with his Gumbo Nouveau band, exploring his New Orleans heritage and reburnishing such classics as When The Saints… and St James Infirmary. A lot of water has washed past Payton’s levee since then, from duets with Doc Cheatham through Sonic Trance to his latest project: Afro Caribbean Mixtape, which includes the thoroughly Paytonish track: Jazz Is A Four-Letter Word. He brings this music to Pizza Express Jazz Club on Tuesday 10 April.

The Transatlantic trio of guitarist Jakob Bro is next up. The Dane has Americans Thomas Morgan on double bass and Joey Baron on drums. Bro has 14 albums to his name (his latest is a quartet disc just released called Returnings), but it was the trio album Gefion, his first for ECM, that really brought him to a substantially wider audience. Here was a new take on the Scandinavian “deep quiet” attitude to chamber jazz, further consolidated with the gorgeous Streams in 2016. There are multiple delights to be found here: the spare, less-is-more style and rich tonal array of Bro, the endless creativity of Baron, and the astonishing combination of transcendence and gravitas that Morgan brings to the music. Jakob Bro, Thomas Morgan and Joey Baron play the club on Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 April.

Tierney Sutton's Paris Sessions album
Vocalist Tierney Sutton has been mining the gold not only in the Great American Song Book but also that of its more modern addenda for a while now, and in that time she has developed a beautifully pared back and most wise way of interpreting a lyric and a melody. Her Paris Sessions album of 2014 and a couple of tracks on the one that preceded it, After Blue (yes, Joni Mitchell’s Blue), brought a new angle to her music, with the band reduced to long-time bassist Kevin Axt and French guitarist Serge Merlaud. This is an American take on that “deep quiet” vibe, an intimate and restrained (but all the more intense for it) interpretation of some of the greatest songs written in the last 100 years.
Tierney Sutton’s Paris Sessions Trio are at the club on Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 May.

If Sutton is revisiting one album, the Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis are raising the stakes ambitiously by revisiting five of their recordings over separate Déjà Vu sessions. Can we expect note-for-note recreations of Organic Warfare (Thursday 14 June), Green Delay and Walking Dark (Friday 15 June), and Life To Everything and Parallax (Sunday 17 June) from bassist Jasper Høiby, pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger? Of course we can’t! Creativity in the moment, spontaneous interplay and the ability to build extraordinary excitement via complexity of melody, harmony and rhythm make Phronesis one of the most compelling live bands I’ve ever heard. What we can expect are surprises.

And then there is amazement of a different kind when Joey Alexander strides on stage with his trio accomplices towering over him. The Indonesian pianist will have just turned 15 when he plays the Pizza Express but if you close your eyes and listen to not only his technical mastery of the grand piano trio tradition that includes Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, but also the insights he brings to the music, you would swear there were many more years of life experience behind those note choices, that manipulation of the music’s swing. The Joey Alexander Trio is at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 July, though tickets for these dates have not yet gone on sale. Keep an eagle out and get in early!

More great gigs coming up in the next three months:

Wednesday 11 to Thursday 12 April: Sheila Jordan

Saturday 14 April: Matthew Whitaker

 Tuesday 24 to Wednesday 25 April: The Bad Plus’ pianist Ethan Iverson with Martin Speake

Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 April: Eddie Henderson Quartet

Sunday 20 to Monday 21 May: Goldings/Bernstein/Stewart

Wednesday 23 to Thursday 24 May: Lew Tabackin

Friday 8 to Sunday 10 June: Catalan Fest with Andrea Motis, Sara Pi & more

Tuesday 12 to Wednesday 13 June: Ann Hampton Callaway

LINKS: Pizza Express Live
Ann Hampton Callaway 2016 Crazy Coqs review
Eddie Henderson 2017 Preview
Interview with Laurence Hobgood (appearing at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 5 April)

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