Mark Lewandowski’s Waller

Review by Robbie Fearon

The Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham

This was tour date seven out of 24 for bassist Mark Lewandowski’s trio, featuring Liam Noble on the piano and Will Glaser – stepping in for Paul Clarvis – on the drums. Mark is out promoting his new album Waller (Whirlwind Recordings), featuring his interpretations of Fats Waller’s repertoire.

The usual Spotted Dog background hubbub died down as the trio drifted into a fairly loose Lulu’s Back in Town. Without being particularly loud they did an excellent job of keeping the occasionally rowdy pub audience’s attention, by playing with their listeners’ expectations. There were dynamic, rhythmic and textural changes in abundance, which the band used to frame the melodies of Fats Waller rather than reinterpreting the melodies themselves. Liam Noble was in large part responsible for this, as listeners of his recent solo album A Room Somewhere (Basho Records) will be in no way surprised to hear. The variety of sounds he gets out of the piano makes him capable of being a one–man-band, and this in combination with Will Glaser’s often fiery drumming gave the music new life.

Mark Lewandowski

That’s not to say the melodies were left neglected. In fact a highlight of the gig was the juxtaposition of I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter on the piano with It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie on the bass. The way the melodies intertwined in a contrapuntal style was a revelation, and provided a Modern Jazz Quartet-esque setting for the type of earthy and bluesy soloing which Waller would have relished. In contrast was a slightly off the mark rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s Why, in which Lewandowski’s singing was somewhat undermined by his own superior bass playing. I felt a collective sigh of relief go round the room as the solos commenced!

As the second set got underway, the audience swelled with young music students and there was a bit of a party atmosphere in the air. As Lewandowski had already said, ‘The more you drink, the better we play… and the more we drink, the better you look!’ and so it was, as the band played a slow and soul drenched interpretation of Black And Blue, with Liam wallowing in some absolutely filthy sounding blues harmonies and the audience showing its vocal appreciation.

Later on a solo bass rendition of Have A Little Dream On Me was remarkable in that everyone listened, and was rewarded with a bass solo which had a clear sense of purpose and was even (hold your breath) exciting to listen to. This was immediately followed by Noble’s solo interpretation of Keeping Out Of Mischief Now. Free from the shackles of his fellow musicians Liam took us on a musical journey from the stride piano era right up to the present day in a freewheeling improvisation which had everyone captivated.

As the jam session kicked off at one of Birmingham’s hippest jazz nights, I went home having enjoyed thoroughly modern renditions of some of the oldest jazz around. Waller has upcoming gigs all over the country so check this band out!

  • Mark’s website with full tour dates is HERE.

Categories: Live review

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