The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, the jam session that draws in some of the cream of the capital’s jazz talent for informal performances after the main draw of the evening has finished, last night dedicated the evening to Abram Wilson whose death from colon cancer at just 38 on 9 June was such a cruel blow. With members of the widely admired and respected trumpeter, composer, and bandleader’s family in the club following a New Orleans-type procession from the South Bank Centre to a memorial service in Waterloo earlier in the day when musicians taking part included Wynton Marsalis, pianist James Pearson leading the jamming told the audience that Abram was due to return to the club in a few weeks if death hadn’t taken him away.
In just 10 years living in the UK the Arkansas-born trumpeter made a big and lasting impact on the national scene, and with Tim Thornton, bass, and Pedro Segundo on drums, Pearson, the club’s artistic director and leader of the Ronnie’s All-Stars, called on Andy Davies who runs the popular upstairs hard bop jam on Wednesdays to play a few songs in tribute. Welshman Davies, with his love of Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, a communicative ability on the trumpet and the expressive tone of a musician who knows what he wants to say and does so with aplomb, was able to squeeze out every little nuance in a lovely sparkling rendition of ‘The Nearness of You’ in particular as well as opener ‘If I Were A Bell’. Singer Emma Smith, newly blond, also joined, running through ‘Skylark’ and scatting with some ease before guests from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw tall and lean and playing fine and mellow with ridiculous skill, and trumpeter Marcus Printup in immaculately subtle form at low volume came down to Ronnie’s to jam fresh from performing with JALCO and The London Symphony Orchestra as they premiered Wynton’s Swing Symphony at the Barbican under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.
As young up-and-coming players lined up to jam including a name to watch in the smartly tailored pianist Reuben James who Abram had himself mentored, a new generation of NYJO players and Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni circulated in the club into the wee small hours to play their socks off. It was a night that you’d guess Abram would have enjoyed. His spirit lives on for sure at the heart of it all, on Frith Street. Stephen Graham
Abram Wilson (pictured, top) Photo: Benjamin Amure
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