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Posts tagged ‘Sheila Maurice-Grey’

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.

Nérija at the Albert Hall

Nérija 1

So maybe this London jazz boom is for real, after all. There was another piece about it in the New York Times last week, in which Giovanni Russonello extolled the Sons of Kemet’s new album while correctly praising the vibrancy of the scene that incubated Shabaka Hutchings and his colleagues. Last night I heard a bit more evidence in the intimate surroundings of the Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, where the septet called Nérija pulled a big and enthusiastic crowd.

Nérija are Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Rosie Turton (trombone), Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone), Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Rio Kai (double bass) and Lizy Exell (drums). Several of them are graduates of the invaluable Tomorrow’s Warriors programme run for young musicians by Gary Crosby and Janine Irons. Last year they released an EP — you can listen to and download it here — which showed off qualities that were illustrated in greater depth during two half-hour sets packed with substantial original compositions, some of them written collectively and each showing a different facet of their character.

Their grooves are made for dancing, their tunes and solos for listening. The four-horn front line makes a pleasingly warm, fat sound, but is used with flexibility, sometimes dividing up within the written sections: trumpet and trombone together, or alto and tenor, or other combinations, thus keeping the textures fresh and the densities surprising. The solos are strategically placed within each composition so that the listener never gets the feeling of hearing a routine in progress. Often a piece has an unexpected ending: an epigrammatic tag, a rhythm section coda, a sudden diminuendo.

As soloists, the horn players are still developing but already show self-confidence and imagination. The formidable Garcia is currently the best known of them, but Maurice-Grey and Turton played several solos that would be outstanding in any context, while Kinoshi — whose playing has a bit of the Blue Notes’ Dudu Pukwana and the Skatalites’ Lester Sterling in it — preached with particular fervour on a composition of her own.

I love how they mix West and South African and Jamaican influences with hard bop and modal jazz, hip-hop, and no doubt other ingredients. The place where they all meet — the prism through which everything passes — seems to be the guitar of Tetteh, who powers the grooves with a fast, staccato chordal approach closer to funk than jazz, as well driving Kai and Exell to spirited climaxes behind the soloists. Her own improvisations are episodic but often contain startling juxtapositions of chordal passages with rippling single-note figures. I hear echoes of all sorts of things metabolised in her playing: Ernest Ranglin, Gabor Szabo, Michael Hampton, Grant Green, and the guys who played guitar with King Sunny Adé. I think she’s finding her way towards something special.

Although Nérija’s approach has been carefully planned, the music never feels tricksy. There are music stands on stage, but they don’t get in the way of spontaneity and a compelling immediacy. There are rough edges, but in a Mingus-y sort of way, which can only be good. You feel that if they were ever completely smoothed away, the fun would stop. Which hardly seems imminent.