Concert review: Steve Swallow Quintet

CBSO Centre, Birmingham, England
Reviewed by Russ Escritt

On Saturday night Steve Swallow brought his new Quintet to the CBSO Centre for the highlight of a great autumn programme from Birmingham Jazz. Steve has been a regular visitor to Birmingham over the last few years but his partner and fellow quintet member, Carla Bley, hasn’t played Birmingham since the days of the Town Hall pre-restoration. It was a real treat to get to see her play in such an intimate setting as the CBSO Centre.

The Steve Swallow Quintet (Picture: Russ Escritt)

Despite Steve and Carla being the biggest names in this quintet this wasn’t a band which was just about the two of them. The other quintet members, Jorge Rossy on drums, Steve Cardenas on guitar and Chris Cheek on tenor sax were all important members.

Carla Bley was playing a Hammond organ for this concert, but the quintet’s sound wasn’t at all like you’d expect if you were told you were going to see a band featuring a Hammond player. It’s likely that if you were, you’d think of Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff, but this quintet sounded nothing like that. They were often quiet and always very melodic with Chris Cheek and Steve Cardenas carrying a lot of the lead lines. Carla Bley’s role seemed to be one that was more often filling in beautiful, gentle sounds behind the melody lines. As the concert went on Carla soloed more but it was something like the fourth tune they played before she did solo.

Steve Swallow used his bass guitar to do more than just carry bass lines. A Dog’s Life in the first set was a lovely bluesy number which started as a duet between Carla and Steve Swallow, whose bass sounded more like a lead guitar at times. During the second set one number started with a beautiful guitar duet between Steve Swallow and Steve Cardenas and then built to a wonderful ensemble piece.

The second set opened with three pieces (Grizzly Business, Unnatural Causes and The Butler Did It) all inspired, Steve Swallow told us, by his love of murder mysteries. “I rarely read a book in which there isn’t a death in the first chapter,” he said. A quick drum blast by Jorge Rossy seemed to signify the point at which the death was referred to in one of the tunes.

Every minute of this gig was enthralling and at the end a packed CBSO Centre clapped and stomped to demand an encore which they duly got. The quintet finished a great gig with a number entitled Name That Tune leaving a very satisfied audience at the end.

The Swallow Quintet play at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tonight, as part of the London Jazz Festival. The concert is being recorded and will be played on Jazz on 3 on tomorrow. The Quintet then go on from London to Paris in order to record. No doubt many of the audience will be waiting impatiently for the recording’s release.

Categories: Live review

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2 replies

  1. Great review, wish I had been there!


  1. Birmingham Jazz » Blog Archive » Review of The Swallow Quintet and a Birmingham Jazz Showcase at London Jazz Festival

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