January 2008

A Night of British Jazz hosted by Courtney Pine
at the 35th Annual IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) Conference

Martin Taylor's Freternity
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra
Dennis Rollins' Badbone & Co.

January 10, 2008 Constitution Hall Toronto
by David Fujino (photo of
Dennis Rollins by Brian Naimer)

For our pre-concert enjoyment, jazz DVDs played on the two screens flanking the stage — the first showed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in action as they played tunes like "Take 5" (Paul Desmond's just great in this); the second DVD documented Monk's quartet at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), and it features the undersung and singing Charlie Rouse on tenor. Both videos were the next best thing to being there, and they showed that the IAJE organizers and staff sure know how to throw a party. These DVDs were a nice appetizer.

The varied concert itself was hosted by Professor Courtney Pine; unfortunately, he didn't play this evening, but he happily and proudly introduced us to some of the best jazz groups coming out of Britain.

The first group was Empirical, a young band that played a somber-toned hard bop in slow and medium tempos. Trumpeter Jay Phelps and alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey led the band through the many-part tunes. In "Kite", named after the bird of prey, their slow trumpet/alto theme spoke of vision and resistance as the piano played in low descending tones; and when Phelps soloed, we heard a bursting melodicism and the high cries of a Kenny Wheeler in his trumpet tone and ideas. Facey's alto sounded like Marion Brown in "A Tyrant's Tale" but after Phelps' fluegelhorn solo that rose in a high arching line, the music was eventually brought back to earth by the piano trio's deep, re-sounding tonic. These jazz players clearly had a message and a purpose.
Jay Phelps and Nathaniel Facey

Martin Taylor's Freternity
While the stage crew was setting up equipment for Martin Taylor's quintet, he played an impromptu mini-set of solo jazz guitar. Taylor improvised with enthusiasm on a couple of standards and chorded in chunky Swing and Bop-influenced harmonies.

His Freternity then opened up with a version of Hoagie Carmichael's eternal "Skylark" where a piano/guitar intro ushered in trumpeter Guy Barker whose poised and breathy solo was distinguished by judiciously placed half-valving. Taylor's response was bluesy and detailed; and the tune ended with a piano chiming and Barker's trumpet trilling away into silence. "The Good Life" showed Taylor's niece, singer Alison Burns, to good advantage, as she delivered a tight reading of the melody and lyrics and Taylor accompanied with delicate and bluesy asides. Taylor's music incorporates Swing, entertainment, 12 years of touring and recording with Stephane Grappelli, and touches of hard bop and R&B elements. He's a player.

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra
The essentially melodic qualities of British Jazz I'd enjoyed in the music of Emprical and Martin Taylor's Freternity sounded out in this largely Scots and British 22 piece jazz orchestra, The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra. Tommy Smith led the large assembly of musicians — "I don't do much" he announced — by mostly counting off tunes, but in-between, he'd walk over to sections or, like us, simply kick back, watch, and listen. "Hoedown" (Oliver Nelson) was a great first choice. Bill Fleming barrelled away on baritone and a hard-hitting, witty trumpet solo was a contrast to the homier hand claps in the opening bars. "A Night in Tunisia" had blazing trumpet playing a la Dizzy, followed by a mellow trombone, a full singing alto, and a warm guitar. These were a prelude to trumpeter Quigley's Cat Anderson high note role in which he wailed, squealed, and squeaked. "Chronometry" (Fred Storm) framed an Alan Jackson alto solo in which Jackson was Bird-like & passionate while the trombone solo was notable for its loose and experimental approach to tones. The orchestra ended with energetic versions of "Cotton Tail" and "Salt Peanuts".

Dennis Rollins' Badbone & Co.
The group chosen to close off the evening — the Dennis Rollins' Badbone & Co. — proved to be an amiable, funky butt (jazz) group, represented in large part by its leader and lead celebrant, Dennis Rollins, on warm-toned trombone. The amiable Rollins loves songs, has a pop and dance sensibility, and he knows about the electronic shimmers of Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way".

Dennis Rollins and Johnny Heyes
So tunes like "Freestyle" allowed for a good trombone solo that quoted both "Summertime" and "Road Song" all in a spirit of smart fun. In "Make Your Move", with its processed drum sounds, trumpeter Jay Phelps (from Empirical) was outstanding again in his expressive flights and his definite gift for melodic decoration. "Fire in The House" changed into "Love The One You're With" (Stephen Sills), as Rollins paced around the stage while blowing, dancing, and just egging things on. The group ended with "Don't get Around Much Anymore" which got a funky groove treatment and some fire alarms and screeming sirens thrown in ...
Nathaniel Facey — alto sax
Jay Phelps — trumpet and fluegelhorn
Tom Farmer — bass
Kit Downes — piano
Shaney Forbes — drums

Martin Taylor's Freternity
Martin Taylor — guitar
Guy Barker — trumpet
David Newman — piano
Dave Chamberlain — bass
Sebastiaan de Krom — drums

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra
London and United Kingdom

Dennis Rollins' Badbone & Co.
Dennis Rollins — trombone
Jay Phelps — trumpet
Johnny Heyes — guitar
Alex Bonfanti — bass
Chris Gulino — piano
Jack Pollitt — drums

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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