Category Archives: Byron Wallen

downwithit.info: Jazz Gigs of The Year 2014

One of my New Year resolutions at the start of 2014 was to get myself out rather more to catch live Jazz performances. As the year ends it is time to take stock of what I saw and where I went.

A deep benchmark was engraved in February when legendary funk masters, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley played at Ronnie Scott’s. Their performance was commented on here and I rated them with an 8/10. I was expecting a deep disappointment when they introduced a female vocalist- so many promise much, but deliver nothing. In this case my lack of faith was exposed and confounded. Robin McKelle was superb and is a real talent to catch (if she ever plays any where else other than France).

2014 was the year when I made my first visit to East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. Denys Baptiste featured one May evening and I was there to enjoy the first of six visits this summer.

I was assured that I would enjoy Gilad Atzmon and they were right. His powerful and intense soloing merited my second 8/10 rating of 2014. There were times when I that he was going to blow his alto sax apart, such is the forcefulness that he has on tap.

Another saxophonist also merited an 8/10 the ESJC. I’ve always harboured a strong mistrust of sax players who play several instruments from Adolphe Sax’s brood. They are usually adequate on one and dire on the rest. Derek Nash made me review that particular prejudice (Gilad Atzmon is a fine multi-reedsman too). Playing with the Letonstone R & B Allstars in an end of Summer season spectacular, I enjoyed his showmanship and that of the rest of a band which also featured Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

In addition to playing several members of the sax family, Derek Nash also fronts several bands, which he uses to showcase different repertoires. Following up on a gig he publicised on Twitter took me to a bar called The Water Margin at the 02 (Dome) in Greenwich in late July. I suppose all musicians have performed before small audiences, but that night saw Nash and his jazz funk outfit, Protect The Beat open to no more than three friends of the band and five civilians, myself included. After some deliberation amongst the band about whether to play or not, pure professionalism kicked in and the result was a performance which rated a rare 9/10. Nash is a very entertaining frontman and his joy encouraged his band mates to excel. Particular mention should be given to guitarist Dave Ital and drummer Darby Todd, but the whole show saw great musicians triumphing over a sadly meagre audience.

My home town of Macclesfield hosts a summer arts festival, which is growing year on year and it was there that I attended a rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was another memorable evening. On the same weekend I also saw a re-creation of A Love Supreme on London’s Southbank.

Unexpectedly, and for no particular reason, a hectic summer of gig-going gave way to an autumn in which I only got to three live Jazz performances. Dylan Howe merited the second of my two 9/10 ratings this year, while I was disappointed by Abdullah Ibrahim at London Jazz Festival, and Steve Wiiliamson‘s long overdue return to leading a band also gave me the opportunity to visit Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for the first of what I hope will be many visits.

All in all I went to 14 jazz gigs, none of which rated lower than 6/10. Out of these, the downwithit gig of the Year 2014 was:-

Derek Nash and Protect The Beat at The Water Margin, for a triumph of brilliant professionalism against the odds.

Well done Derek and here’s to getting out and about again in 2015, with seeing another performance by Pharaoh Sanders as my New Year’s wish. Hope I will have lots to tell you about this time next year!

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Byron Wallen live at East Side Jazz Club. 1st July 2014

East Side Jazz Club hosted yet another attractive gig as part of the weekly series at Tommy Flynn’s on Leytonstone High Road. Byron Wallen was featured but before I saw him I had to take care of the inner man as I was hungry. Thankfully the pub serves food downstairs (I’m glad it’s not available in the music room) and I was tempted by their very good battered cod, served in a huge portion with a freshly dressed salad and some proper chips. The new landlord is carrying on with a good menu and I’ll be eating here again.

After that I caught the end of the first set from Byron Wallen (trumpet) Simon Purcell (piano), Gary Crosby (bass) and ever-present Clive Fenner (drums). Bye Bye Blackbird, brought to mind the version on Miles Davis’s In Person Live At The Blackhawk, which was followed by a good solid rendition of Blue Monk.

Several days after the gig and the initial posting of this piece I realised that Byron Wallen opened the Meltdown performance of A Love Supreme with a Tibetan Horn and a fine trumpet and bass duet which you can read about here.

During the interval, on the big screen in the downstairs bar, the Belgium v USA World Cup match was heating up, but when the musicians returned, the fare upstairs was even better. The second set opened with a second Thelonious Monk composition, I Mean You, with each of the performers given space to express themselves. Indeed it was a very open and welcoming bandstand with Alexandra (surname awaited) guesting on alto saxophone on Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee.

I am fond of On Green Dolphin Street, when it is played well, as was the case tonight. There was even more of a treat when Cuban, Yelfris Valdes was invited to join in on a second trumpet. Byron’s playing had been very good up to that point but the addition of another excellent horn player pushed him on even further. His remarkable willingness to share the spotlight with such a talented exponent of the same instrument spoke volumes about Wallen’s great self-confidence and it leads me to ask you, the readership…

A question!

…Can you recall and inform us of any instances of Miles Davis allowing another trumpeter to play alongside him in an equal role? I know the famous story about Wynton Marsalis being told where he could go to when he attempted to take to the stage that Miles was ruling. There’s lots of space for comments here at downwithit, so don’t be shy.

Afterword: There’s a picture of Miles and Dizzy Gillespie playing together here-although I assume that Miles was the guest on that session.

Caravan was a tour de force with both leads trading ideas and alto player, Alexandra, growing in confidence with every note. Sadly though the clock turned and it was time for the closing number, the Billie Holiday ballad, You Don’t Know What Love Is.

This was another memorable visit to East Side Jazz Club, which was rounded off with a final, non-musical treat as I watched the captivating extra-time conclusion to the Belgium v USA game.

A further 7/10 performance rating is merited and somehow I expect that we won’t see many months pass without having witnessed Yelfris Valdes as featured artist at ESJC. For those of you that can’t wait there’s a small taste on YouTube:

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