Jean Toussaint’s Roots And Herbs

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

Subtitled The Art Blakey Project, this band is led by a saxophonist who has every right to mine the Jazz Messengers’ legacy because he was a Messenger himself. And just as Art used his band to give younger musicians a step up the ladder so Toussaint does the same.

To be fair, the other players, with one exception, are already fairly well established Trumpeter Byron Wallen, pianist Andrew McCormack and drummer Shane Forbes need little introduction and already have substantial discographies and reputations as leaders in their own right; on double bass was recent Birmingham Conservatoire graduate and a man who is already rising fast, Daniel Casimir.

All of the programme came from the Messengers’ book, and a lot of it from the pen of Wayne Shorter. We heard his Roots And Herbs, Ping Pong, Look At The Birdie (all three from the Roots And Herbs album of 1961), The Summit and Sleeping Dancer Sleep On, along with the two most famous tunes associated with the Blakey band, Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ and Benny Golson’s Blues March, and the whole evening was completed by Timmons’ Dat Dere and Lee Morgan’s The Witch Doctor.

What was most striking was how satisfying the old format of head-solos-head can be if the players are this good and if they have a great group feel. Toussaint runs the band with a light touch and a ready smile, encouraging soloists to extend themselves, and enhancing their improvisations with riffs in duet with Wallen from the back of the stage.

All five played excellent solos, but I took extra delight in the way McCormack comped, constantly coming up with different rhythmic pushes and accents, always working marvellously with the rhythm team; a couple of very fine, strongly melodic bass solos from Casimir; Wallen’s energy and commitment at all times; and Forbes’ originality in his solos.

But way out front was the playing of Toussaint. This is a man who improvises in complete sentences, will all the correct punctuation marks, accents and everything. But it’s not just that he is so grammatically correct in the art of improvisation; he is also so well-read, and has such eloquent and original things to say. And that muscularity of tone and articulation! He really is the complete saxophonist.

A great way to end Jazzlines’ formal concert season for 2015.

Categories: Live review

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