Monday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Review by Peter Vacher

Trinity Laban Contemporary Jazz Ensemble / J.D. Allen Trio / Randy Weston-Billy Harper Duo
London Jazz Festival
QEH London

Trinity Laban’s CJE exceeded expectations. Cohesive, creative, and enthusiastic under Mark Lockheart’s able direction, these students responded to this programme of Gerry Mulligan concert jazz band pieces with the kind of gusto and drive that would have made the late maestro glow with pleasure.

Paced by the stirring bass playing of Daniel Casimir (already gaining ground with Clark Tracey’s quintet)and the swing engendered by drummer Oliver Sarker-Samuels, they tackled Al Cohn’s tricky version of Little Rock Getaway with total aplomb, trumpeter Harrison Cole excelling.

Earlier it had been the gutsy baritone of tutor Mick Foster on Catch As Catch Can that hit the mark, closely followed by student Arnaud Guichard, also on baritone, who momentarily recalled Harry Carney, on the more elegiac Django’s Castle, before tenorist Ruben Fox, confident and hard-hitting, took over on the rousing Apple Core. Note these names. They’ll be part of this music’s future.

J.D. Allen, compact and stocky, entered the bare-bones QEH stage playing, his young and very lively drummer Jonathan Barber and bassist Alexander Claffy already in place, the subsequent improvisation relentless yet cleverly maintained, as he worked at repeated motifs, rising and falling, over Barber’s cross-rhythms. Allen doesn’t let up, eschewing any freakish high-register shouts while gnawing away at the middle ground, nor does he speak, each unidentified piece succeeded by another, with wave upon wave of solo exploration, minus occasional breaks for bass and drums. Amid the guesswork, it was good to come across a superb version of Stardust. This young man can certainly play, and is clearly a star in the making. Next time, why not tell us what’s going on?

As ever, the 88-year old Weston, still tall and upright, paid tribute verbally to the “ancestors”, the African progenitors of the music, much of his programme celebrating and recalling his immersion in African culture. He continues to play with considerable élan, offering thunderous left-hand chords and lightly-drawn right-hand patterns. Harper’s an essentially subsidiary role, that edgy, Texan tone largely deployed in short, stabbing phrases, his playing oddly static and hardly ever taking off into anything memorable. His solo feature If One Could Only See stayed stubbornly becalmed; one longed for flight. It never came.

Reasonably enough, Weston played Hi-Fly and encored with Little Niles, and one was left with considerable respect for an artist who has stayed close to his personal quest and pursued it to so nobly.

Categories: Live review

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