JazzJanuary performance #3
Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 10th January
JazzJanuary testers: Andrew, Matt, Ziya
JazzJanuary advisers: N/A
“We’re going to funk things up in here tonight!” says Marcus Bonfanti, leader of the Ronnie Scott’s Blues Explosion. If you’re a jazz-tester reeling from your first exposure to the Gareth Lockrane band a few hours beforehand, it’s hard not to feel a bit sceptical. There just don’t seem to be enough bodies on the stage for it.
Tonight, though, isn’t about firepower. This isn’t just a guitar band trying to cover Eric Clapton and calling it ‘Blues’. We’re listening to the music of Ray Charles. We’re enjoying boogie-woogie piano. This is old-school. And it’s a seven-piece, which means we have a rolling, tumbling trombone, saxophone and trumpet (led by Winston Rollins). Drummer Frank Tontoh sounds assured and muscular, though we’re concerned to see a series of holes in one of his cymbals. We don’t know why – perhaps it was cheaper than the others. There’s never a jazz-adviser around when you need one to explain these things.
Tonight’s testers are happy. For Ziya, it’s the venue. Living and working in Zone 1, this is nonetheless his first visit to Ronnie Scott’s. The same for Andrew. “This is how it should be,” he says. “The musicianship is brilliant, the production is brilliant, the venue is brilliant.” He’s particularly impressed with the rhythm section. Maybe it’s just an evening away from his kids (they’re numerous, and he’s a schoolteacher by day) that’s making him so perky, but in any case, he’s enjoying himself.
There is one dark cloud on the horizon. The ‘hold on, is this actually jazz music’ question is looming again. Kool and the Gang crept into the NYJO setlist earlier in the week, and here we are tonight, arguing about whether the gritty Lee Dorsey song Get out of my life, Woman counts as blues or jazz. Either way, the poor lady must have burned the dinner once too often, because the singer’s had enough. “Get off the ladder, Woman,” he growls, “I’ve got to climb to the top.” Perhaps she’s messed up some wallpapering, then. Like so many arguments (ours, not Mr and Mrs Dorsey’s) it is settled by Google. Written on the original record cover is the line New Orleans Soul. Soul, then. The further we go, and the more complicated this business is getting.
Older blues music – this isn’t just rock music with a twist.
Whether this counts as jazz or not, it’s a sleek and satisfying demonstration.
Alex Hitchcock Quartet, 14th January
Story and photos: Matt Pannell