Category Archives: Filomena Campus

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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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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