Category Archives: Jazz Funk

The Blackbyrds: Ronnie Scott’s 15 February 2017

Although 2017 is not a leap year, here at downwithit we’ve sprung like a feisty feline on the hunt. The great Donald Byrd has led us from The Catwalk to a sellout first night of a residency at Ronnie Scott’s, costing me more of a song than sixpence and featuring The Blackbyrds as the main course.

While working on my consideration of The Catwalk and explaining how I had first started to listen to Donald Byrd when his Best Of compilation was released in 1992, I noticed that his protégés, The Blackbyrds, were playing in London in mid-February. It took seconds to hit the club website and reserve a couple of tickets. A month passed quickly and a night on the town came along to add a bit of sparkle to a late winter’s evening.

There’s always a bit of a gamble involved in going to see bands that have reformed. The Blackbyrds did so in 2012 and feature three original members in the form of powerhouse vocalist and drummer, Keith Killgo, the mighty Joe Hall on six string electric bass and Orville Saunders playing a very funky guitar.

Any misgivings were left behind at the door and a satisfying starter was served up by saxophonist Christian Brewer and his band, Brewer’s Crew. Their lively jazz funk was well received by an appreciative audience out to enjoy themselves.

After a quick rearrangement of the small stage, the main course was delivered by an octet who paved the way with their anthem, Black Byrd, which you can listen to (in the form of the original featuring Donald Byrd) courtesy of Youtube:

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After a great opener, one of my personal favourites, Dominoes, followed. It led onto a delicious smorgasbord of hits including Think Twice, Time is Movin’, the inevitable Walking in Rhythm, Do It Fluid and Happy Music, not forgetting the well-loved Rock Creek Park.

There isn’t a weak link in the current Blackbyrds line-up and it is very much in keeping with Donald Byrd’s legacy as a great and inspirational music educator, that they include young talent. Paul Spires on lead vocal has a unique voice that the smart money says we will hear more of, while the sax and flute duties were delivered without fault by Elijah Balbed, a recent graduate of Washington’s Howard University, where Donald Byrd formed the band in 1973.

As the set progressed, a trickle of members of the audience began to dance and that rapidly turned into a flood as The Blackbyrds infectious and tightly delivered songbook worked its magic. Although this is their first residency there, this will surely not be the last engagement at Ronnie Scott’s for The Blackbyrds.

The gig also offered the opportunity for me to say hello to Carl Hyde, the in-house photographer at Ronnie Scott’s. I have been aware of Carl’s work for some time and you can see a sample of it for yourself on his website.

All in all, another great night at Ronnie’s!

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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’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.

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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.