18 January 2009

Visiting the family

It was a hot, relaxed day, so it was a perfect opportunity to visit the family, and they were playing down at Manuka. The close family is the jazzers, but the first cousins are the blues players. Leo Joseph’s Key Grip is a blues outfit, and today Leo was playing with several jazzers in his ‘lite’ quartet. So there was that intriguing mesh of the intellectual and complex nature of jazz with the simpler but true and involving sounds of the blues.

Leo started with a solo stride instrumental and continued with various twelves bar tunes in different keys (but common favourite Bb) and different meters. He accompanied a few with vocals, interspersing all with amusing and very natural banter. “We’ve settled on a song. We’ve had a committee meeting. I was overruled … again. This is an arty song …” Amusing and engaging, and presented with good humour. The rhythm section was tight as. Phil and Mitch locked in, with Mitch providing a wonderfully steady, pure and simple brush pattern (I think he played brushes for the whole set) and Phill playing fairly simple blues lines with evenness and clear statement of the underlying harmony. With such a rhythm section, the soloists could play with abandon. Leo made simple but apt blues statements from the heart of the tradition. So did James most of the time, but then occasionally he’d let go with a speedy line, or some dissonance that lifted the level of abstraction. I’m currently reading Alyn Shipton’s “New history of jazz”, and he writes of just such combinations in the early days of black music, with the “syncopated orchestras” and the great female blues singers in the time of Bessie Smith.

Route 66 is uber-common, but their sleazy, slow, down-home version was lovely. There was Percy Mayfield, and a string of other 12-bar numbers with various feels and occasional lyrics. There was even that “arty song” mentioned above, which seemed to still be based on I and IV but with some cycle of fifths turnarounds. Not too complex, but not fundamental blues, which appears to be Leo’s love, and which he does so well.

Leo’s a strong leader (I’ve played with him and I know his sense of clarity and correctness), and his band’s a capable mix of the jazz exotic and the initiated blues-men. I enjoyed the visit to the family. BTW, Leo also plays in a larger format with a full horn section, thus the ‘lite’ moniker for this incarnation.

Key Grip lite was led by Leo Joseph (piano,vocals) with Mitch Preston (drums), Phill Jenkins (bass) and James LeFevre (tenor sax).

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