Category Archives: Darby Todd

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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Derek Nash + Protect The Beat: WMJazz at the 02. Thursday 24 July 2014

A twitter notification set me off to catch some jazz funk at the 02 last night. Derek Nash and Protect The Beat were playing and there would be no charge. The Dome is a strange place- always has been. I’ve seen my share of concerts in the main venue and I love the more intimate Indigo 2, which is a great place to watch music with its much smaller audience capacity.

However, apart from that, and even though it’s close to home it is not a destination that I would normally think of visiting. It is a bus ride from bustling central Greenwich and nobody I know would dream of popping down there on the off-chance of stumbling upon something interesting happening. I haven’t sampled any of the restaurants, or the cinemas and the trip up and over the roof lacks the drama of the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, in my opinion. It’s all a bit too corporate-American, a bit too tidy, safe and sanitised for my taste. I may be mistaken- but I guess The French Quarter in New Orleans, which I want to visit sometime could share some of the 02’s downside- hope I’m wrong.

Anyway, I got there to find that the complex was hosting a Christian revival meeting. I was going to say I would draw a veil over my view about that, but I’m not a Muslim either. It was unusual and if the 02 is a bit like heaven…well you can guess what I might possibly say next.

WMJazz is a fine venue. It is biggish street-level bar attached to the Water Margin Chinese Restaurant. It has a great small stage and a really gutsy in-house PA sound system.

There was only one problem, as apart from a few friends of the band I was one of only three customers. The performance start time came and went and I heard the band debating whether to play. Luckily for me they decided to go ahead.

Derek Nash is a thoroughly professional front man and he went about the proceedings with the same energy that would be appropriate for a megastar in the huge arena venue. Indeed, he put more into it than Stevie Wonder did when I saw him next door a couple of years ago.

Protect The Beat are his jazz funk project and very good at it they are too. At WMJazz he mainly played alto saxophone, with a few numbers on his serpentine 1920’s soprano and a smattering of tenor.

Dave Ital, who we last met with Derek Nash and the Leytonstone Festival R&B All Stars a couple of weeks ago was on guitar duties. Just to recap, he is a superb lead guitarist who can claw out the funkiest of chords and this gig provided even more evidence why he has caught the attention of the great Nile Rodgers. Arden Hart was on electronic piano/keyboard. He could play those sanctified Baptist sounds when required (and probably everything else with his eyes shut) but couldn’t be persuaded to uncase his trumpet. Drummer, Darby Todd has just spent a year on the road with The Darkness but we won’t hold that against him- although I’m sure a few of the Christians who slowly wandered in may have struggled with a few of those snappy little numbers from their album One Way Ticket To Hell. He has a huge kit, a big sound and he can knock out those polyrhythms when appropriate. The bass player, who had recently played alongside Robert Plant and was deputising for Winston Blisset, was also excellent and innovative- at one stage deliberately detuning one electric bass before shifting to another but I didn’t write his name down (may have been Bill though- cheers Bill!).

Musically, the band were deeply funky, playing their own material, with a nod to James Brown, Ronnie Laws, and early in the set, to the distant past when they took us for A Night In Tunisia. They also did a very 80’s cover of hoary old chestnut, Sunny and veered towards pop with a cover of Cold, one of the lesser known tunes from Annie Lennox’s Diva album.

The restaurant staff did sterling work on the promenading Christians. Many were called and a few chose to come in, swelling the congregation in the tabernacle of funk to about 30 souls. The 02 could probably support a successful jazz venue as the transport links are excellent and the WMJazz room is ideal but it will take a great deal of marketing and publicity if it is to get off the ground. Good luck to them though.

Although it was a performance marred by the tiny audience, the band put a great deal into delivering two high-quality sets and they showed themselves to be real troopers and consummate professionals. At the start, it was like having a command performance in my own parlour. For that I have to award them downwithit.info’s first ever, 9/10 on our rate a gig scale. There’s some YouTube footage of the band with a slightly different line-up playing at The 606 Club in 2013.

To play, click on or touch the arrow

I’ve got another of Derek Nash’s band incarnations in mind for a visit in the near future and it will be interesting to hear him perform in yet another style.

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