REVIEW: Roger Beaujolais Trio at Lauderdale House,

L-R: Jim Mullen, Steve Watts, Roger Beaujolais
Photo courtesy of Lauderdale House


Roger Beaujolais Trio
(Lauderdale House, Highgate. 25 April 2019. Review by Brian Blain)

Great start for Lauderdale's Spring series last Thursday with an almost full house for this relatively new group of unpretentious but brilliantly talented melodic and swinging musicians.  With exponents around like Anthony Kerr, Nat Steele, Orphy Robinson, Corey Mwamba, Lewis Wright, Frank Ricotti and Roger Beaujolais himself, the vibraphone, an instrument that had seemed to be written off after the glories of Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton, has been making a big comeback in the UK.

A drumless group, like this one might even fall into a trap of 'chamber jazz' even a little twee, but Jim Mullen and Beaujolais' roots go deep into Blues and funk, and just enough tough talking to keep those pitfalls at bay was illustrated meaningfully by the opener, Old Devil Moon and a couple of tunes, later, a roaring number in 6/8 by Wes Montgomery, Full House, which produced a couple of those sly Mullen quotes, snippets of Favourite Things and THAT tune from Mozart 40. Audiences love these injections of humour and sharp thinking, even though years ago musicians were upbraided by po-faced critics for such practices, presumably on the grounds that they showed too little respect for the sacred cow of improvisation.

Beaujolais is blessed with humour as well, as some of his own titles, like Admission Impossible, Mr Non PC or Joe Beam, his nod of appreciation to the great Brazilian songwriter would illustrate. On the other hand, when he plays a theme like  Heartstrings by Milt Jackson, a slow, melodic melody allowed full vent to the melodic/harmonic possibilities of the vibes, and that warm, mellifluous sound that is unique to Mullen's thumb-picking technique. So, between them, what could easily have toppled into sentimentality somehow conjured up the epitome of deep soul instead. This was one too that made you focus on Steve Watts' superb bass playing. He is blessed with the ability to produce notes with deep resonance and with a grasp of time which, at slow tempos like this, is essential in holding it all together.

And a final comment: an odd feature of this concert was a quite considerable number of moderately young people in the audience. No one wants to stop them turning out to support newer faces but it is heartening to think that there is real respect in that demographic for musicians like these who have always been somewhere near their own generation's cutting edge and are still producing music that is vital, alive, and often, still surprising.

Brian Blain is on the programming team at Lauderdale House

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