Leytonstone Festival R & B All Stars Live at East Side Jazz Club

When I started downwithit.info I was confident that I would be able to choose what I wanted to write about from my fairly sizeable collection of recorded music.

I was far less certain about writing about live acts, especially British based performers. I wasn’t too sure about where to start and I’d harboured something of a prejudice about the homegrown scene. There was only one way to deal with that, which was to get out and listen to some live music into the smaller venues that I prefer to cavernous barns.

I’d wondered about how the performers who had come out of the Jazz Warriors stable had fared and trying to answer that question led me to The East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. It wasn’t too far from home and the admission fee was moderate so in mid-May I made my first visit.

Denys Baptiste was calling the shots that night and I liked what I saw, so much so that I have now made five return visits.

There’s only one good thing to be said about prejudice. Generally speaking it is an imaginary chain that binds us in our heads and once recognised it is relatively easy to deal with. The music that I’ve heard at ESJC has been brilliant and it just makes me want to seek out more.

Over the summer I’m going to have to venture elsewhere because the ESJC lot head off to run jazz summer schools in France. I’ve already got somewhere in mind for next week and I’m looking forward to venturing elsewhere. But what of last night?

The final session of this season offered up The Leytonstone Festival R & B All Stars. Featuring members of Jools Holland’s Big Band, this was not a gig that I wanted to miss. I wasn’t disappointed

Four of the band, Derek Nash (saxophones), Dave Ital (guitar)’ Winston Rollins (trombone) and Chris Storr (trumpet) are also members of Jools Holland’s renowned R & B Orchestra, while Geoff GascoynePete (bass) and Pete Whittaker (organ) are masters of their instruments too. Of course, Clive Fenner was on drum duty and as in charge of his kit as ever.

Derek Nash was directing the proceedings. As a former saxophonist (albeit probably once ranked towards the very bottom of the 50,000+ tenor sax players in Great Britain) I take a keen interest in how my more successful rivals are doing. I’m always suspicious of saxophonists who double-up on other members of the saxophone family. Derek Nash had a tenor, alto and soprano with him and I was sure that his playing would be badly exposed on at least one. I was very wrong and he performed with total command of each of the three instruments. Having been listening to Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet set quite often over the last few weeks and taking the view that it is marred by Shepp’s relatively weak reedy sound on that session, it was an absolute pleasure to hear Nash perform with strength, gusto and a full-bodied range.

He also led the band with aplomb and his introductions to the tunes were amusing and very informative. I intend to make it my business that it won’t be long until I see him play again.

The set was a cornocopia of jazz, mambo, Latin and funk numbers, many of which were original compositions. The horn section fills were as crisp and well-drilled as I would expect of pros who perform in an established big band and who probably communicate through some higher form of musical telepathy anyway (sorry- I must be thinking of Sun Ra’s Arkestra there).

One of the highlights was I’m Comin’ Home by Bob Dorough. It is a track that I had always admired but until Derek and Geoff spoke about him, I knew nothing of the composer. A John Schofield tune also impressed with its fire and funk and will lead me to look out for this guitarist who I had wrongly placed in an ECM ethereal pigeonhole

Geoff Gascoyne may turn out to be a drain on my pocket. He played the entire set on a bass ukulele, which is an instrument I’d never seen before but which is as cool as the cat’s pyjamas. I want one! Although I didn’t realise it, I had heard him play before, as he was with the excellent Everything But The Girl on their early 90’s Worldwide album and also with Georgie Fame. His bass playing was really engaging and I look forward to hearing him again, preferably on an acoustic double bass.

Guitarist Dave Ital was showcased on Pass The Peas by Maceo Parker and the JBs. He is currently working with Nile Rodgers, the musician who inspired me to put downwithit.info together and his deft alacrity up and down the fretboard showed why. ESJC is a little too restrained to resort to a spontaneous dance explosion but if it had, it would have been no less than this funky expedition cried out for.

Shut your eyes on the right number when Chris Storr solos and you could imagine you were listening to Miles Davis. He is really good. The clarity of his sound on both trumpet and fluegelhorn was impressive and, from a selfish personal perspective, the only way he could have topped his performance would have been if he had suddenly pulled the distinctive trumpet intro to Arthur Conley and Otis Redding’s Sweet Soul Music out of his bag (I’m sure it’s in there). Winston Rollins was equally assured on trombone while Pete Whittaker would have benefitted from a little more attack from a full Hammond Organ with Leslie speakers, rather than from the smaller scale instrument that he was playing tonight. When I listen to Hammond I like the whoosh from the Leslie’s and the sense that my fillings are in peril from the visceral power of a beast of a machine. Looking at Pete’s website it is clear that he regards the full sound as his preferred option- but a chopped down electronic keyboard is obviously more practical for gigs.

Clive Fenner anchored it all most ably although his use of the cowbell on the Latin numbers suggests that he may be considering re-locating his summer jazz school to one of the Italian Swiss Cantons (if there are any).

So all in all, I had another fine evening at ESJC, which now takes a break until 23 September. I’ll be aiming to get myself back there in the autumn.

This performance merits an 8/10 on my patented rate a gig scale. It gets as close to a 9 as can be without quite crossing into that rarified zone.

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