JazzJanuary performance #2
Gareth Lockrane Big Band
606 Club, London, 10th January
JazzJanuary testers: Evie (6), Oliver (8), Sophie (9), Charlie, Emma, Matt B, Matt P (older)
JazzJanuary adviser: Karen (music teacher)
It’s a bit unsettling. “Who wants some more sleazy funk?” shouts an excited band leader to his audience. Next to you, a 6-year-old voice replies: “Me!”
Gareth Lockrane isn’t short of sleaze. He has more flutes than a Tory MP has mistresses, and he switches between them in the same way. There’s usually one on the go, another lined up close by and a couple more just out of sight, waiting their turn for a breathy encounter.
This is a big band with a twist. Not so long ago, it seems, the flute wasn’t really a jazz instrument. There might have been the odd one here and there, but a band leader brazenly flashing four of them around? Unheard of.
It’s Sunday lunchtime here at the 606 Club in Chelsea, and our group of jazz-testers includes a trio of under-tens. We’re in another underground venue. It’s warm and friendly inside, but unlike Ronnie Scott’s, this place has the kind of entrance door you could walk straight past. You reach through a mesh grille and press a buzzer to be allowed down the stairs. The Jazz-people complain about being stereotyped as remote and secretive, but so far, we’ve not seen any of of them above ground level.
The band – hailed as ‘ferocious’ and ‘unruly’ by the critics – certainly packs a punch. This is exciting, accessible, original music, dished out at a crackling pace. The first set ends with ‘The Strut‘, an instant, universal hit among the jazz-testers and with today’s Jazz-adviser, Karen. In truth, her judgement might have crumbled. Her principal instrument at university was the flute, and as flute-demonstrations go, this would take some beating.
The stream of colourful music about The X-Men and surfing keeps flowing after a break for lunch. And there’s something else going on, too. It’s a standard thing, apparently, for band leaders to give their best players a chance to stand up alone and do their stuff, supported only by the rhythm section. But Gareth Lockrane is making a very thorough job of this. He has hand-picked these 18 musicians, presumably without committees, governors, or audition panels. He wants to make sure that before we leave, we know precisely what they’re capable of.
Methodically, he works his way around the players, pointing with flutes, allocating solos. You’re still enjoying the band. But you’re also being treated to a series of mini-masterclasses in instruments from guitar to flugelhorn. Bass trombone and saxophones make the biggest impression on the jazz-testers. Drummer Tristan Maillot somehow infuses a fluid, elegant, loose-limbed style with a feral bite. And he’s doing tricksy little things with time that can’t be explained (at least, not here) but are thrilling to listen to.
The band’s newest member – so new that he’s still wearing his parka – takes the last, extended, solo on saxophone. The face is familiar: he played in the Royal Academy Big Band in November, and with NYJO a few days ago. Twenty-odd, Jim Gold already has a musical CV as long as a microphone cable. Even to mere jazz-testers, it’s obvious these people are stars of jazz music in London, and this band gives them room to shine.
The Jazz-people communicate: Jim Gold, “our newest band member” (right) enjoys a solo from Tom Barford “our powerhouse on tenor sax” (left)
(1) Gareth Lockrane and his four flutes. Bass trombone (Trevor Mires), flugelhorn (Tom Walsh). Read the lists of artists they’ve recorded with, and you’ll realise that you’ve probably heard them quite a lot already.
(2) The 606 Club – friendly, good production. (And lunch. Have you ever, mid-show, tried asking for a Sunday roast in the O2?)
Evie (Jazz-tester, 6, who thought the band lived in the 606 Club as a permanent, self-sufficient community): Please can we come back tomorrow and listen to the Jazz-people again?
Oliver (Jazz-tester, 8. No reaction for an hour after the performance, but enrolled in his school music club the following day): My favourite was the last bit before the break. I want to go again.
Karen (Jazz-adviser): Exhilarating, unpredictable and a sonorous delight. A real joy to hear the flute in ways so foreign to the genre – from piccolo to bass, each was unique in its blend with other timbres and was a revelation.
Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion, 10th January (evening)
Story and photos: Matt Pannell