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Posts tagged ‘Sarah Tandy’

Binker in the Round

Binker in the Round 1

It takes a brave bandleader to offer Sarah Tandy the first solo of the set. And when the pianist was presented with that opportunity while depping for Joe Armon-Jones in Binker Golding’s quartet at Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre on Monday night, she made the most of it. As she can do, she simply took flight, pulling together the strands of the opening theme, focusing the efforts of the whole band and raising the intensity to a level sustained for the next 40 minutes.

It took four of them to bring that off, of course. Not just Tandy or Golding, whose playing seems to have reached a new level of authority in the past year, but the band’s bassist, Dan Casimir, who deploys a huge tone and a massive drive, and its drummer, Sam Jones, who is loose and sharp at the sane time and has a lovely way of infusing eights with a triplet-based feel (and who managed to make an adroit recovery when his bass-drum pedal flew off just as Golding’s tenor solo was building in the climactic “Fluorescent Black”).

They played tunes from Golding’s new album, Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers, whose delightful title owed something, he said, to the poet Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — That perches in the soul — And sings the tune without the words — And never stops — at all — ” It was, he added, the result of his desire to make something more melodic than the music he created in his duo with the drummer Moses Boyd and its various extensions.

How well he has succeeded. The album is like a modern version of a tenor-and-rhythm session by someone such as George Coleman or James Clay at the zenith of the hard-bop era: original themes that are strong and complex, full of immediately attractive twists and turns, blowing that is fierce but constantly aware of the need to build a narrative. Occasionally, as in “Exquisite She-Green”, there is a Monkish angularity that seeps into the solos. A ballad like “You, That Place, That Time” is not afraid to explore a glowing but always alert lyricism. Others, like “Fluorescent Black” and the Latin-inflected “I Forgot Santa Monica”, have a built-in swing that allows the musicians to take off and show us the extent of their old-school chops while making it clear that they have new things to say.

Tandy on the live gig provided a rewarding contrast with Armon-Jones’s work on the album: the former constantly launching her combination of soulfulness and rhapsody, fingers flying as she goes deeper and deeper, the latter a virtuoso of funky feeling, with a surprise in every bar and making each one count towards the whole.

The gig had the Cockpit audience roaring its approval. The album is a beautiful (and very beautifully recorded) document capturing a young London musician’s discovery that there’s more than one way for his generation to wreck the house. Most highly recommended.

* Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers is out now on the Gearbox label.

Sarah Tandy at Ronnie Scott’s

Sarah Tandy at RS 1

The first time I heard the pianist Sarah Tandy in person, with Camilla George’s band at the Vortex, I was struck how far she went inside the music. As she improvised, mind and body seemed completely engaged at an unusually deep level. I’ve heard her a number of times now —  with Maisha, with her own trio and with the quintet with which she launched her debut album in London last night — and that impression remains just as strong.

Her keyboard technique is pretty impressive. She was a prodigy in the classical field — a finalist in the BBC’s young musician of the year competition — before turning to jazz while studying Eng Lit at Cambridge. As an improviser, therefore, she can make her hands do pretty well anything her mind suggests. In jazz, this is not invariably an advantage. But what Tandy does at all times, however fast her fingers are flying, is to convey a sense of soul and lyricism. It was no surprise to me when she mentioned, during a conversation a couple of years ago, that she admires Wynton Kelly, a pianist whose ability to convey joy through his playing was second to none.

Last night she led a band consisting of Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet, Binker Golding on tenor, Mutale Chashi on double bass and bass guitar, and Femi Koleoso on drums. That’s the line-up heard on her album, Infection in the Sentence, which is released at the end of this week by Jazz re:freshed. When she asked Ronnie Scott’s if she could launch the album at the club, she was shocked to be offered two 45-minute sets. “The album’s only 50 minutes long,” she told the audience, “so we’re going to have to get creative.”

It’s hard to imagine them being anything else. Tandy’s tunes were consistently stimulating — particularly the extended opener, “Under the Skin”, which included a ferocious section of very fast straight-time blowing and ended with a delicate fade. For “Timelord” she switched to electric piano, locating an irresistible late-night/big-city groove. Her rousing arrangement of “Afro-Blue” was more Mongo Santamaria (who wrote it) than John Coltrane (who made it famous); a packed house loved it, responding to the relaxed interaction between the musicians, and to the sense that although the music is serious, it’s still fun to play like this.

When she had a residency for her trio at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, I used to wait for her to play “Everything Happens to Me”, the Matt Dennis/Tom Adair ballad first recorded by Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey in 1940, an exceptionally beautiful and poignant song with which she seemed to have a special rapport. She didn’t play it last night, but she did open the second set with her own “Half Blue”, a graceful solo piano piece which demonstrated the qualities of touch and voicing that help to make her so special.

She also loves to hit a groove, and there was a lot of that last night. It never lacked subtlety, thanks to the endlessly inventive Koleoso — who blends Billy Higgins’s floating grace with Alphonse Mouzon’s brusque power, adding flourishes of his own — and the excellent Chashi, who manipulated his bass guitar on a couple of tunes with the purring authority of Marcus Miller.

A motif of both sets was the way pieces often ended with a long, carefully improvised collective diminuendo tapering to silence; so much more dramatic than a crash-bang-wallop coda. And at the end of the night the groove changed, with Maurice-Grey singing “You Are My Sunshine”: not the way Ray Charles or Sheila Jordan and George Russell did it, but with a New Orleans second-line feel. A terrific night, and a launch that should give impetus not just to a single album but to an important career.