It was the first Soho Session at Pizza Express Jazz Club last night, a special invitation-only affair when the club went to some pains to put on a fine array of talent. Music manager Ross Dines hovered by the stage while over at the sound desk “voice of the club" sound engineer Luc Saint-Martin was happily twiddling the knobs of a specially installed state-of-the-art audio system set up for the night. The club has been toying with upgrading the sound in the basement space for some time and this was a key opportunity to put the kit through its paces although it all goes back in the box today.
Beat boxer extraordinaire Shlomo opened proceedings with his uncanny technique and the capability, with the help of a Loop Station and bags of natural talent, to resemble a complete band not just a guy standing there making odd noises into a pair of microphones. I liked his Public Enemy-type rush at the beginning and he accurately built up some Michael Jackson-type routines later. But the novelty faded after a while, although it was big fun. Happily the crystal-clear sound system definitely captured every hi-hat lick, the pop of a Shlomo snare and more in amazing clarity.
Next up was singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle who was accompanied by Nick Ramm on piano. Drenched with what sounded like reverb or some textural wash her voice has nonetheless a delicate freshness about it and she performed an engaged set accompanying herself on ukulele and adding a remarkable turn on musical saw later. Frail and delicate her stage persona may well be but she has a strong folky voice, like a female Jeff Buckley, with lots of interesting contrasts (her take on Schumann ‘I Blame You Not’ [‘Ich Grolle Nicht’] came off best) although some of the stage patter was a bit on the twee side.
Jamie Cullum was the surprise guest making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert last year. Trialling new material, he’s preparing his latest album, “if you talk to my manager", he joked to fans earlier, “he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!" Cullum sat at the Steinway as if it were his second home, and got the audience on side and some of the singers present harmonising along to the mambo-hinting opening song ‘When I Get Famous’, about a schoolboy’s unrequited love for a girl and the feelings he has about her rejecting him.
The lovely ballad-like second song, ‘Save Your Soul’, hit the mark almost in the vein of his still unreleased ‘Rayleigh Road’, and he finished it off by romping home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ on a day that Mara Carlyle had noted giggling was “the hottest day of the year". You’re always on a hiding to nothing with a weather song, but Cullum is comfortable on classic songbook material like this so everyone’s luck was in.
Gregory Porter then charmed the audience and I really envy people present who had not heard the Brooklyn-based Californian before. A great sensory overload even if you’ve heard him umpteen times. Here, he was on his way "through" Harlem he twinkled changing the preposition from ‘to’ in his evocative homage to Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye and the unrecognisable face of an America and a New York only a thoughtfully wistful song and great singer such as Porter can adequately convey. With José James’ drummer-of-choice Richard Spaven, gutsy tenor sax from Ben Castle and soulful Grant Windsor on piano plus lively bass from Chris Hill, this was a party performance fun but serious, of the moment yet of the past. Such a great talent and a joy to listen to on any occasion. I could listen to ‘Be Good’ all day long. Mr Bojangles himself would be proud.
Gregory Porter on the microphone and Jamie Cullum pictured above last night at the Soho Session, with Chris Hill on double bass at the rear of the stage and Ben Castle standing with his tenor saxophone
In a day and age when it’s so easy for a musician or band to slip under the radar, particularly as they enter middle age, saxophonist Yuri Honing who turned 47 earlier this month although still massively young by most jazz yardsticks (!) was pre-Bad Plus one of the pace setters in terms of the new post-jazz movement.
That’s ‘post’ in the sense of Coltrane on the one hand, and post in the sense of ‘punk’ on the other.
A Generation X-er from the Netherlands, Honing emerged quietly at least internationally like so many Dutch jazz people at first, forming a trio, which in 1996 made waves with Star Tracks. In essence they took absurd songs by the likes of Abba and The Police and tore them up note by note much like The Bad Plus would do and still do.
Never too arch, but very knowing and ironic in a classic post-jazz way, Honing with bassist Tony Overwater and drummer Joost Lijbaart paved the way for a new cynical generation wishing to question complacent attitudes grown unwieldy by both the excesses of free jazz and the posturing of certain strands of jazz-rock.
It’s easy to make the link to more recent improvisers such as Pete Wareham of Acoustic Ladyland who would emerge a little later in the UK.
Honing and Lijbaart are still playing together, and on their latest release True, recorded in Berlin to be released on the Amsterdam-based Challenge Records on 17 September, are joined by pianist/harmonium player Wolfert Brederode – remember his fine quartet album Post Scriptum ECM put out quietly last year? – and bassist Ruben Samama.
Most of the songs on True are Honing’s own, apart from a cover of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp’s ‘Paper Bag’; a tender take on Bowie’s ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ from his 2003 album Reality; and a new song ‘Nobody Knows’ by the bassist Samama.
Honing sounds infinitely more at ease here than the last time I heard him live with his band Wired Paradise in 2010 during the Cork Jazz Festival.
Tracks are ‘True’, ‘Paper Bag’, ‘End of Friedrichsheim’, ‘Borchardt’, ‘Paper Bag (reprise)’, ‘Bring Me The Disco King’, ‘Yasutani’, ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘True (reprise)’.
Certainly not a long album it’s more than worth your while and has a brooding interior vision few albums these days get close to achieving.
Yuri Honing Quartet (pictured, above) plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 20 September. Photo: Jean-Boris Szymczak
The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars are going to be right at the heart of the action during the Olympics playing for no fewer than 17 nights at what’s being talked up as the closest venue to the Olympic Park.
The claim might not be that fishy, do read on, as from 10pm until Ronnie’s official closing time of three in the morning, the atmosphere of the Soho club is to be beamed east to Forman’s Fish Island at Stour Road on Fish Island appropriately enough for this Moby Dick-like run.
Apparently they’re ready to recreate the atmosphere of Soho on the banks of the Lea in this restaurant that’s come from nowhere just like the Stadium although the firm backing it is a London foodie institution and the place will stay open until 4am. The man behind the booking Lance Forman pops up in disembodied virtual maître d’ style on their website to elaborate. It’s all about “world class sport with world class jazz, cocktails and late-night dining." So, er, volleyball in the kitchen, table tennis on the bandstand, 100m dash to the bar, that sort of thing?
Maybe not, but fair play to the brains involved with the booking as it’s only a short hop from the Olympic Stadium and you can bet the music will be of Olympic standard as the effortlessly classy pianist James Pearson is on hand with his repertory rolling roster of seasoned players in the band with singer Natalie Williams always a popular luminous and soulful presence. She might even dye her hair specially for the run, who knows. Apparently the closing ceremony night will feature someone special so check their site for updates. Stephen Graham
James Pearson pictured above