Presented by Birmingham Jazz
The Red Lion, Hockley, Birmingham UK
Pianist Ivo Neame and his band were playing the sixth and last date of a tour leading up to the release of their new album, Strata (reviewed here), on Monday. Neame on piano (BJ’s own little Yamaha upright, a new and very welcome acquisition) and accordion, Tori Freestone on tenor saxophone and flute, Jim Hart on vibes, Tom Farmer on double bass and Dave Hamblett on drums are all previous visitors to this cosy upstairs room, either leading their own bands or as sidemen/women with others, and seemed to be fully enjoying the familiar setting and welcoming company.
The programme mainly mixed tunes from Strata with a few from Neame’s previous album, Yatra, which also featured Freestone, Hart and Hamblett. The new release’s title tune provided an apt introduction to Neame’s way of writing and the band’s way of working: themes which make the most of the interaction between all five in the band, in which solos emerge naturally from their structures, and which are rich in both harmonic and rhythmic material.
Neame invited us to spot the structure of the familiar crucifixion story in his tune American Jesus, suggesting that it was a story shared with Albert Camus’s novel The Outsider and with Paul Verhoeven’s film RoboCop. Things did indeed unravel a little at the end of the piece and the final notes were left hanging there.
Quixotic, from the even earlier album Caught In The Light Of Day, had Freestone laying fragile tenor lines over Hart playing with both bow and mallet to achieve a mix of eery sonic wash and pointillistic accents, while behind them Neame, Farmer and Hamblett worked up a jittery beat that threatened to teeter and stumble in suitably ramshackle, windmill-tilting style.
Eastern Chant, from the new album, kicked off the second set in energised mood, Hart turning in a particularly fine and exciting solo, while Freestone showed, as she did throughout the evening, how she can always find a new and original way from A to G on the saxophone. The winningly-titled Owl Of Me started with a folky, South American timbral mix of accordion and flute and led on to a strong Freestone tenor solo. Yatra was the encore.
Hamblett was a joy throughout the gig, busy but always spacious, free-ranging but always with a deep-seated sense of groove; Farmer is a rock solid pivot around which the band moves, though I find his sound a little thin, missing in the amplification the rich resonance that surely must be there. Neame is always interesting though in this band he perhaps plays the over-generous leader, giving the greater share of the solos to Freestone and Hart. He was a little quiet in the first half, too, though after some rejigging of the mics and PA settings this was almost remedied for the second set.
A classy close to the first half of the 2015 BJ Friday evening programme. Now there is a weekend festival to look forward to in July.
- More on the Legends Festival here.
Categories: Live review