It was astonishing! Did they really play that? You must be joking. If I hadn’t witnessed the performance given by Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart and their pickup rhythm section of Noble, Watts and Fenner, I wouldn’t believe the breadth of material that was covered. Although it could have been a dogs breakfast, this gig at Leytonstone’s East Side Jazz Club was a feast of many flavours, which resulted in a memorable meal with ingredients from Hollywood, New Orleans, South Africa and New York blended and served up with brilliance.
Batchelor (trumpet) and Lockheart (tenor saxophone) had played together in the 1980’s as members of the British big band Loose Tubes in a lineup that was a who’s who of emerging talents. Despite the passing of the years and involvement in multiple projects as diverse as Microgroove and Polar Bear, they demonstrate a deep understanding and connection with each other in their musical dialogue.
The band eased into the set with Angel Eyes and if they hadn’t been heard sound checking with what could have been a lively John Coltrane blues, there would be reason to fear that they would not be straying too far from well-worn standards from the 1940s and 1950s. This was followed by Fat’s Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz from 1942, the first jazz waltz to gain widespread acclaim and a ballad which could have been either Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes or Jimmy Van Heusen’s Nancy With The Laughing Face (although it could have been something else entirely- let me know if you know what it was).
Each number was given new life by the energy transfused into it by the two front men, before the fourth selection introduced a real element of surprise with Batchelor venturing back to the era of trad jazz with a Louis Armstrong tune. It wasn’t simply a case of getting away with an interesting anomaly as these musicians brought freshness to a style that I associate with a ancient breed of men playing on Sunday afternoons in dingy pubs, sometimes with banjos! (I may be unfair here). Any remaining sense of a set overly dependent on tired icons was well and truly smashed into clast fragments with an audacious version of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. I’m not regular enough at East Side to state categorically that free jazz has never featured there but I’ll wager that Batchelor, Lockheart et al took us as close to the territory favoured at Dalston’s Cafe Oto as the Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s club may have ever been.
After the interval expectations were further confounded with two Thelonious Monk tunes, Bemsha Swing from Brilliant Corners and the later Ugly Beauty from 1968s Underground. The band tackled these with skill and aplomb before Batchelor introduced Ages Of Mali, a township jazz tune composed by the great Dudu Pukwana who he played with in Zila when he was 17. This brought back many memories of those stalwarts of the 1980’s London scene (from the audience response, I was not alone in my enjoyment) and a dedication to Zila’s singer, the late Pinise Saul who passed away in October 2016 followed.
A further shift in mood and tempo was crafted with Jobim’s smooth I You Ever Come To Me before Harry Beckett’s Harambee was chosen as the penultimate piece. Although I did not know Harry Beckett personally I gained the deepest respect for him as, despite his eminence as an artist, he worked with and shared his love of music with the rawest of raw beginners at the much-missed Lewisham Academy Of Music, a community project which worked with all-comers walking in from 1980 to 2000. Finally, the gig concluded with Come Ye Disconsolate, a traditional gospel anthem recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, which you can listen to courtesy of Youtube:-
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Once again, East Side Jazz Club presented the cream of British Jazz to spice up this quiet and unpretentious part of town and Clive Fenner and his crew are to be commended for their consistent hard work to ensure that the flag is kept flying. We’ll be back there again very soon.