Two contrasting gigs, a sample of the veritable smörgåsbord of quality jazz available in Soho and central London more broadly on a random Wednesday night.
The first, with a vocals-jazz flavour, was at the Spice of Life, Paul Pace’s basement jazz club, tucked in near the Palace theatre, featuring the Chris Connor-like voice of singer Jo Harrop, above right, fronting the Copasetics. Pianist Alex Webb, above left, double bassist Miles Danso, who used to be part of the much missed Spitz scene, and drummer Sophie Alloway with a guest, Polish alto saxophonist Aleksandra Topczewska who has been working with Tomorrow’s Warriors recently, completed the band.
A refined sound Harrop has excellent tone and great stage presence and she was accompanied effectively by Webb, known for his Cafe Society shows in both London and New York. Highlight for me was ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’ the Brooks Bowman song that Sarah Vaughan sang in the 1950s. And this was very much a band with the sound of the 1950s in its head and heart. People danced along unselfconsciously near the drumkit and the club's characterful doorman could even be spotted, handkerchief-less, doing a little magic trick as he passed by tables near the front later on tickling the fancy of a few of the evening’s patrons. Britain’s Got Talent surely beckons.
Later a short walk away deeper into Soho, and a climb to the upstairs lounge of the Ronnie Scott’s bar, the Welsh Kenny Dorham- and Chet Baker-influenced trumpeter Andy Davies, above right in shadow, was leading the atmosphere-laden long-running Wednesday hard bop jam, now approaching its seventh anniversary later this month. Davies, since the last time I saw him, has grown his hair and has also coiffed his showmanship side. Presentationally strong and musically astute at running through melodic variants on a wide range of hard bop warhorses he slips in sitters-in to make them welcome and involved and plenty of musicians come down both experienced hands and talented unknowns. With his trumpet or flugel pointed up to the ceiling Davies knows how to make his presence felt and when not playing likes to pace the stage listening to every move of the players, the rapt audience standing in a spell watching the band clearly connecting with both the passion and the style.
Appearing with pianist Benet McLean, who plays violin on the new Partikel album, bassist Ferg Ireland (above, left) and drummer Saleem Rahman, soon to be gigging with singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey at festivals this summer, plus a range of interesting guest players sitting-in there is always a buzz about this gig and this night was no different. A jam that sends you into a jazz world that some rockers might mistakenly feel doesn’t exist any more but is very much alive and happening right now.
Story & photos: Stephen Graham