Monday 4 December 2006

Tony Kofi at Brighton Jazz Club

Brighton Jazz Club has a long tradition of supporting UK jazz musicians, through good times and bad. When I first came to Brighton over 16 years ago, visiting American musicians like Art Farmer played alongside local musicians to packed houses at The Concorde. The Club is now based at the Sussex Arts Club, where audiences are often slim and at the silver-haired end of the age spectrum (I'm in my forties and was one of the youngest there). The venue is cold (the band had hats on for much of the gig) and lacking atmosphere and you dare not talk for fear of being told to be quiet. And whatever happened to the younger crowd, the people getting into jazz at the same time as saxophonist Tony Kofi and trumpeter Byron Wallen?

Supported by Anders Olinder on Hammond organ and the Winston Clifford on drums, soprano, alto & baritone saxophonist Tony treated us to tunes form his latest album, Future Passed. The first number was a groove number - the dominate vibe being a sound palette from the golden age of the Blue Note Hammond organ groove (think Lou Donaldson, Dr. Lonnie Smith) mixed with some more modern melodic, harmonic and rhythmic influences. For the second number, trumpeter Byron Wallen jumped onto the stage, took his coat off and joined the band for an uptempo tune called The Journey. The unison head reminded me immediately of organists's Larry Young's band with Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson that recorded the modern jazz classic, Unity. Byron and Tony certainly know their jazz history - I picked up Miles, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Lee Morgan in Byron's playing, and Lou Donaldson, Jackie McClean and Coltrane in Tony's.

The tunes were memorable and accessible (confirmed when I downloaded the album from iTunes). One highlight was an Ellington/Strayhorn type ballad dedicated to Tony's father (A Song for Papa Jack), with Byron taking the lead. There was a clear empathy between between Byron and Tony, who have been playing together since Tony arrived in London 15 years ago. At times ther reminded my of early Ornette Coleman with Don Cherry (trumpet), when the two played Ornette's complex heads as though they were joined at the hip.

Winston Clifford is certainly one of the best jazz drummers in the UK, and he has a more modern sound than most other I've heard. His playing is both subtle and powerful. It sounds as though he has been absorbing digitally-generated hip hop beats and making them all his own.

In Anders Olinder's organ playing you can certainly here the modern, progressive influence of Larry Young (once nicknamed The Coltrane of the Organ for his approach to harmony and improvisational drive). Talking to Anders after the gig he, like me, is a big fan of Larry Goldings, the New York organist who play with Metheny and Scofield, as well as his own trio with Peter Bernstein (guitar) and Bill Stewart (drums). These players are probably closer in approach to pianist Bill Evans than, say, Jimmy Smith. Andreas avoided the blues cliches and focused on exploring and picking out interesting intervals during his soloing.

These are musicians I'll certainly look out for in the future. I'm just staggered that they are not playing to larger audiences of people their own age.


Anonymous said...

Good review John. Totally agree about the Brighton Jazz club. It's got to change/move - soon!

Anonymous said...

Another in agreement about the 'jazz club'- was it the bald git shutting you up? He's still around- he's so up himself, he hasn't seen daylight for years!