Steve Williamson live at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho. 1st September 2014

The summer of 2014 has hosted the welcome re-emergence of top British saxophonist, Steve Williamson. Back in late-June he featured in the re-creation of A Love Supreme (which you can read about here) and then guested on Black Top One (here). Although both of these performances gave a glimpse of his talents I was eagerly awaiting an opportunity to hear him play his own material as a leader. When I read about the September gig at The Dean Street Jazz Club I contacted them immediately, to be at the head of the queue. I enjoyed his playing over 20 years ago and it would be fascinating to find out how he had developed in the intervening years.

This was his first gig as leader of his own band, playing his own set for well over ten years. Backed by Michael Mondesir on bass, Robert Mitchell, piano, with Seb Rochford providing the drums (and last encountered here on percussion duty with Polar Bear), he was in superb company and he told us of his delight to be sharing the stage with them.

The first set opened with the unusual time signature of the lengthy Soon Come, which allayed any concerns that he may have lost his edge on tenor saxophone. Cracked Earth was next and I pondered the difference between performers who play their own material, rather than drawing on standards. I concluded that it depends on the quality of the material and Steve Williamson’s has tensile strength throughout.

Waltz For Grace, so old a favourite that my copy is on a C90 cassette, followed. SW switched to soprano sax and his anthem featured London-based Sardinian vocalist Filomena Campus, who has a most incredible jazz voice. Some people just sing while a very few others make use of an incredible instrument that they are gifted with. Campus is part of this small second group and I hope it won’t be long before I see her deliver her own set, as I’m sure that would be a treat.

Mandy’s Mood which sounds like a nod to Freedom Jazz Dance to me, took us to the interval.

Wakening opened the second half and was followed by Gary Bartz’s Celestial Blues, Journey To The Truth and Water Like Water.

Williamson’s confidence and assurance increased with every tune and this band, who were solid and unwavering in their support, will be a joy to watch if they come your way. I’ll certainly be hoping to see more of them as the days draw in towards winter.

As I’m confident that there is a great deal more to come, I will rate this gig as a 7/10 performance and bid the man himself a huge ‘Welcome back! You’ve been missed’.

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