27 August 2013

Jury’s out, Verdict’s in

The Verdict is near Jury’s Out. They are both near the Law Courts in Brighton. We were at the Verdict to see jazz: Ian Price, John Donaldson, Nigel Thomas and Spike Wells. Verdict is a jazz club of two levels with a small performance basement. Jury’s Out is a nearby pub. The weather is warm. It’s a bank holiday weekend in the height of summer on the warmest day of the year. It’s fairly hot and steamy, and a pleasure for the English. It was hot and steamy in the basement, too. The first notes were rubato as in Coltrane and Love supreme. The bass was punctuated, the drums were a patina with indistiguishable rhythm over occasional piano chords. The tenor was muscular, hard edged, laying in a passionate few notes then dissolving into dissonant streams in response. A few minutes of this, then I recognised Alone together as hard-core post-bop. Embellished melody, syncopated rhythms and bass just hinting at a walk. I’d been explaining to Wendy and Andy, Megan’s family and our hosts, some of the history and approach of jazz and we’d listened to a recording that morning that was a modern take on the 1930s and truer to the American Songbook. This was twenty years later, late ‘50s. Just as respectful but definitely taking more liberties. The tunes are lengthened (9 tunes in two long sets), the tempos are more frenzied and the melodies are more implied, the solos are loosened from the obvious chord tones. But the tunes are still evident. Alone together is an old favourite so it was a pleasure to hear it as the first tune. Then Monk’s Nutty, My one and only love as the ballad of the set and an obvious blues I can’t name. Then a second set with the same rubato start, Well you needn’t leading into Caravan. Interestingly the audience got a choice of key for Weaver of dreams (we took Eb rather than C). Then a burner, It’s you or no-one, and Billy Stayhorn’s Raincheck to finish up. Typically for jazz, this was a small room and a small audience and the concentration was on the music and not the patter. Ian Price was changed from the originally billed saxist, but he was a strong, ardent player who I enjoyed immensely. This is of a period and it’s a key era of unpretentious virtuosity and commitment. Hard, honest tone; imploring phrases resolved with sheets of colour playing on the edge of dissonance or descending into it. Then off to the side for a solo or fours. Pianist John Donaldson was a leader with Ian. His comping moved unobtrusively through the range with fourths harmonies. Then streams of notes in solos, a right hand of lengthy sequences moving up or down the keyboard. Bassist Nigel Thomas started all punctuated with lots of space but by the end of the night, with fevered walks at breakneck speeds. I enjoyed his solos of melodic lines and accompanying singing and again some breakout flourished fills. Drummer Spike Wells sat in the corner, often smiling when the temperature rose on piano or other, then taking solos that clearly spelt out the tune and structure.

Explaining the contemporary in jazz, and hearing this post-bop and those recordings of a more swinging style was enlightening for me as well as our hosts. They enjoyed the gig and I hope I may have created some audience for more gigs at the Verdict. I enjoyed it for the unassuming but ecstatic blowing of post-bop. These guys were very capable. Just proof that’s there’s good jazz everywhere even if it’s obscure and, sadly, too often loved only by its mothers. Great little club; classic little audience; wonderful, hard blown jazz.

Ian Price (tenor sax), John Donaldson (piano), Nigel Thomas (bass) and Spike Wells (drums) played at the Verdict Jazz Club in Brighton.

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