The Jazz Mann | Simon Lasky Quartet - Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017. | Review | The Jazz Mann

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Simon Lasky Quartet - Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining". Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys the first ever jazz performance in the "Concerts in Caversham" series.

Concerts in Caversham/Jazz at St Andrews
St Andrews Church , Albert Road RG4 7PL
Saturday 14th October 2017


The Simon Lasky Quartet:
Simon Lasky Piano
Jessica Radcliffe Vocals
Simon Bates Soprano, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Alto Flute
Robert Rickenberg Double Bass


St Andrew’s Church, a large Edwardian building with a generously accommodating church hall attached, seems a relatively unusual venue for a jazz concert, its tall, wide space filled with seats in rows. But the sight of the brightly polished, opened-wide grand piano, its inner surfaces reflecting a gleaming rack of wind instruments, a ‘stand-up’ bass, and a striking vocalist was the scene that greeted the 150-strong audience for the first-ever Jazz performance in the Concerts in Caversham series.

As the musicians came on, the ambience was immediately tangible: here was a group that was out to enjoy both its own company and that of its audience, natural, easy, relaxed and polished, without a hint of pretension or false bonhomie.

The evening began simply with Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got the World on a String”, where the immediate impact was both relaxing and reassuring: the concert space’s acoustic qualities were very pleasing, Jessica Radcliffe’s open commitment and constantly expressive face and body language a delight, her voice strong and infinitely varied in nuance and tonal colour. With a real theatrical awareness, she radiated sincerity, humour and intelligence in all her presentations and through her singing. Robert Rickenberg’s bass came across as strong and earthy, the piano gentle, soprano sax brightly soaring.

“Midnight Sun” (Johnny Mercer) began with a peaceful opening from piano and a light, breathy but clearly articulated vocal line, the rich sound from the rare alto flute providing a beautifully dark and appealing low tone.
Complex piano chords in a wistful and reflective nocturnal mood, led us throughchromatic lines to some supremely atmospheric places.

“How Deep is the Ocean?” (Irving Berlin) opened with bass rhythms from Robert Rickenberg and finger snaps from Simon Bates creating a sparse but inviting opening, before some crisply fine scat singing from Jessica Radcliffe almost put the music before the lyrics! Alto sax made a bright, lively intervention, the vocalist remaining entirely involved, reacting and clearly enjoying the moment, even when resting. An alto sax solo drew the first jazz club-style applause of the evening.

“I Wish I Knew” (Harry Warren) had conversations between voice and piano before a wistful and reflective bass entry thrillingly illustrated the special qualities of the St Andrew’s space, filling it with soulful, natural sounds of vibrant wood, echoed by the clarinet’s rich low voice, perhaps reminiscent of Jimmy Guiffre’s distinctive ‘period’ sound. Chromatic runs and rapid ornamentation preceded fluent, legato piano phrases, enriched with fulsome chords. Robert Rickenberg’s wonderful bass lines, beautifully intoned, added the finishing touch.

Here Simon Lasky talked about his crowd-funded new album, originally written for a quintet, here adapted to suit the occasion:
“Coming Home”, from “Story Inside”(Simon Lasky)
Declamatory, rich chords from piano were reinforced by bass and alto sax, this time with Simon Bates’ tone reminiscent of Ian Ballamy’s glorious outpourings with the group ‘Quercus’ in Brecon Cathedral. Latin rhythms eased their way into the consciousness, with rapid patterns cascading from saxophone, a high bass line and a semi-quaver percussion pattern reminding us that this line-up had that unusual feature: a jazz quartet with no drummer! Again, a hint of the cathedral as the ringing sax voice rang out over an arpeggiating piano. This was highly atmospheric music, skilfully presented.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) was short and sweet, a happy interlude, full of fun.

“East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” (Brooks Bowman ) Great scat-singing from Jessica Radcliffe opened this tune, accompanied by cheery runs of skyward scalic and arpeggiated phrases, returning to earth from the heights. A lightness of touch from Simon Lasky provided an almost diaphanous background, allowing the vocals to swing: exciting and secure.

A reflective opening, a light sax voice over low piano chords and intimate vocals put the audience” In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington), the beautifully unobtrusive bass creating a deep, warm place for a carefully hesitantly shaped vocal line; passionate and sensitive in a discursive passage, gorgeous sax phrases left the piece high, but not dry!

Quick finger snaps and alto sax kicked off “I’m Old Fashioned” (Ella Fitzgerald), the bass running low and fast, short off-beat stabs from piano - polished, sophisticated, voice returning serenely but coquettishly, busy, busy, busy.

The final composition from Simon Lasky was “Vanessa Moss: New Day”. The ‘two Simons’ performed this intimate and emotional work alone, Lasky telling the audience that he had dedicated the piece to a friend who had suffered his young daughter’s death only two weeks earlier.Jazz (for all its light-hearted appeal) has the power to move us greatly. Simon Lasky’s piece was a startling, highly affecting expression of grief, in all its contradictory stages. It began with quiet, questioning chords from the piano, moving into dark and reflective phrasing from soprano saxophone, beautifully played by Simon Bates. The soprano has uniquely searing sounds at its disposal – made familiar through Jan Garbarek’s Hilliard Ensemble recordings. A virtual scream of pain within a few bars of a solo moved through moods suggesting terror, sadness, regret, acceptance - and
returning heartbreak. Fearful, discordant chords from piano, more cries of grief from saxophone, before elements of peace, and perhaps happier memories were allowed to surface. Then we heard a lonely line, shattered chords, broken harmonies. A helpless plea from sax again, before a mood of nobility, dignity and forthright resolve seemed to take over, as though some sort of hope for a life without had taken the place of total despair…finally, a profound tolling, as of a great bell resonating from the piano’s dying notes.

From this spiritual place, Jessica Radcliffe introduced “I’ll Never be the Same” (Lester Young) as a song she had discovered working with a project on the great Billie Holliday. An enquiring whole-tone figure developing into an ‘ache in my heart’ melody, thoughtful and pensive over a moving rhythmic swing line. A purposeful growl crept in as Simon Bates conveyed a bluesy feel while Jessica Radcliffe, always fully active, singing or not, was dancing lightly and unobtrusively. A lovely bass solo followed, before a nice near-grimace from Jessica rounded off the song with comic resignation.

After a round of thanks and appreciation from one of Concerts in Caversham’s promoters, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) was the final, witty piece at the end of a great evening’s entertainment: a short, but highly accomplished punctuation mark that left the audience happily wanting more, some time in the not-too-distant future.

In the event, a most enjoyable evening ended very sociably with refreshments and tables groaning with a spread of beautifully-prepared and delicious buffet food, cakes and fruit. With hospitality like this on hand, Concerts in Caversham must surely become Reading’s equivalent to London’s St John’s, Smith Square.

Personally, after hearing and seeing a programme and a band so attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining, I was left with just one criticism: I had been looking forward to hearing more of the recent Simon Lasky compositions, thinking of the striking contrast of which he is capable -check the Simon Lasky Group, six-piece and more near-Cuban in style at times, with influences from such as Pat Metheny.

So having thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of The Great American Song Book, I will be adding to the experience by listening to the “Story Inside”tracks when I’ve completed this review. In my preliminary searches in preparing for this concert, I discovered many links to the other achievements of all the members of the Quartet, and I recommend following them up – this is how we can expand on, and further to enjoy, what we’d discovered tonight!

Also useful were the copious notes Simon Laskyhad added to the programme, making more sense of the term: The Great American Song Book, and its revelations concerning the sophistication of the harmonies found in those early vehicles for jazz improvisation, the Popular Song, many of them written by composers with influences from many traditions, including the classical repertoire.

On stage, the Simon Lasky Quartet had the aura of a group of friends sharing their artistry collaboratively in public, and in contrast to the ‘what shall we play next? Do you know this tune?’ style of many fine jazz groups, this was on a higher plane of discussion. We were privileged to be overhearing sensitive and good humoured conversations about ‘what shall we do now, and what made us choose this?’ A feeling of complete assurance was mixed with eager anticipation of whatever was to follow.


About Concerts in Caversham…
Over a period of eight years, Concerts in Caversham has offered four high quality Classical and Baroque small-ensemble, chamber-orchestra concerts and organ recitals per year. The organisers have now decided to add a fifth concert, a jazz event to their calendar; by the end of this evening, any traces of pre-‘new project’ apprehension on the organisers’ part was evidently dispelled, with a promise of more to come in 2018, and an invitation to the Simon Lasky Quartet to consider being a part of it.

St Andrew’s Church shows great potential for its future as a Jazz Venue north of Reading’s river. Not only were the available pews (cushions available, and added chairs) more than enough for what looked like a large crowd, St Andrew’s provided a big, beautiful space and a very warm and crisp acoustic, perhaps surprising for a tall and resonant church of its age. Fine detail in a jazz quartet performance could have been lost in the outer recesses of such a building, even if they can complement and sustain the sounds of much older music. In this case, and clearly through the quality of sound-checking undertaken by the group, rhythmic tightness, superb intonation and tonal qualities were a pleasure to behold. Amplification was kept to a minimum (it appeared only the bass was enhanced – but very gently) and the vocal sibilants were clearly heard alongside the various mixes of instrumental accompaniments.


Marc Edwards 17th October 2017

Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017.

Simon Lasky Quartet

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017.

"Attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining". Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys the first ever jazz performance in the "Concerts in Caversham" series.

Concerts in Caversham/Jazz at St Andrews
St Andrews Church , Albert Road RG4 7PL
Saturday 14th October 2017


The Simon Lasky Quartet:
Simon Lasky Piano
Jessica Radcliffe Vocals
Simon Bates Soprano, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Alto Flute
Robert Rickenberg Double Bass


St Andrew’s Church, a large Edwardian building with a generously accommodating church hall attached, seems a relatively unusual venue for a jazz concert, its tall, wide space filled with seats in rows. But the sight of the brightly polished, opened-wide grand piano, its inner surfaces reflecting a gleaming rack of wind instruments, a ‘stand-up’ bass, and a striking vocalist was the scene that greeted the 150-strong audience for the first-ever Jazz performance in the Concerts in Caversham series.

As the musicians came on, the ambience was immediately tangible: here was a group that was out to enjoy both its own company and that of its audience, natural, easy, relaxed and polished, without a hint of pretension or false bonhomie.

The evening began simply with Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got the World on a String”, where the immediate impact was both relaxing and reassuring: the concert space’s acoustic qualities were very pleasing, Jessica Radcliffe’s open commitment and constantly expressive face and body language a delight, her voice strong and infinitely varied in nuance and tonal colour. With a real theatrical awareness, she radiated sincerity, humour and intelligence in all her presentations and through her singing. Robert Rickenberg’s bass came across as strong and earthy, the piano gentle, soprano sax brightly soaring.

“Midnight Sun” (Johnny Mercer) began with a peaceful opening from piano and a light, breathy but clearly articulated vocal line, the rich sound from the rare alto flute providing a beautifully dark and appealing low tone.
Complex piano chords in a wistful and reflective nocturnal mood, led us throughchromatic lines to some supremely atmospheric places.

“How Deep is the Ocean?” (Irving Berlin) opened with bass rhythms from Robert Rickenberg and finger snaps from Simon Bates creating a sparse but inviting opening, before some crisply fine scat singing from Jessica Radcliffe almost put the music before the lyrics! Alto sax made a bright, lively intervention, the vocalist remaining entirely involved, reacting and clearly enjoying the moment, even when resting. An alto sax solo drew the first jazz club-style applause of the evening.

“I Wish I Knew” (Harry Warren) had conversations between voice and piano before a wistful and reflective bass entry thrillingly illustrated the special qualities of the St Andrew’s space, filling it with soulful, natural sounds of vibrant wood, echoed by the clarinet’s rich low voice, perhaps reminiscent of Jimmy Guiffre’s distinctive ‘period’ sound. Chromatic runs and rapid ornamentation preceded fluent, legato piano phrases, enriched with fulsome chords. Robert Rickenberg’s wonderful bass lines, beautifully intoned, added the finishing touch.

Here Simon Lasky talked about his crowd-funded new album, originally written for a quintet, here adapted to suit the occasion:
“Coming Home”, from “Story Inside”(Simon Lasky)
Declamatory, rich chords from piano were reinforced by bass and alto sax, this time with Simon Bates’ tone reminiscent of Ian Ballamy’s glorious outpourings with the group ‘Quercus’ in Brecon Cathedral. Latin rhythms eased their way into the consciousness, with rapid patterns cascading from saxophone, a high bass line and a semi-quaver percussion pattern reminding us that this line-up had that unusual feature: a jazz quartet with no drummer! Again, a hint of the cathedral as the ringing sax voice rang out over an arpeggiating piano. This was highly atmospheric music, skilfully presented.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) was short and sweet, a happy interlude, full of fun.

“East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” (Brooks Bowman ) Great scat-singing from Jessica Radcliffe opened this tune, accompanied by cheery runs of skyward scalic and arpeggiated phrases, returning to earth from the heights. A lightness of touch from Simon Lasky provided an almost diaphanous background, allowing the vocals to swing: exciting and secure.

A reflective opening, a light sax voice over low piano chords and intimate vocals put the audience” In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington), the beautifully unobtrusive bass creating a deep, warm place for a carefully hesitantly shaped vocal line; passionate and sensitive in a discursive passage, gorgeous sax phrases left the piece high, but not dry!

Quick finger snaps and alto sax kicked off “I’m Old Fashioned” (Ella Fitzgerald), the bass running low and fast, short off-beat stabs from piano - polished, sophisticated, voice returning serenely but coquettishly, busy, busy, busy.

The final composition from Simon Lasky was “Vanessa Moss: New Day”. The ‘two Simons’ performed this intimate and emotional work alone, Lasky telling the audience that he had dedicated the piece to a friend who had suffered his young daughter’s death only two weeks earlier.Jazz (for all its light-hearted appeal) has the power to move us greatly. Simon Lasky’s piece was a startling, highly affecting expression of grief, in all its contradictory stages. It began with quiet, questioning chords from the piano, moving into dark and reflective phrasing from soprano saxophone, beautifully played by Simon Bates. The soprano has uniquely searing sounds at its disposal – made familiar through Jan Garbarek’s Hilliard Ensemble recordings. A virtual scream of pain within a few bars of a solo moved through moods suggesting terror, sadness, regret, acceptance - and
returning heartbreak. Fearful, discordant chords from piano, more cries of grief from saxophone, before elements of peace, and perhaps happier memories were allowed to surface. Then we heard a lonely line, shattered chords, broken harmonies. A helpless plea from sax again, before a mood of nobility, dignity and forthright resolve seemed to take over, as though some sort of hope for a life without had taken the place of total despair…finally, a profound tolling, as of a great bell resonating from the piano’s dying notes.

From this spiritual place, Jessica Radcliffe introduced “I’ll Never be the Same” (Lester Young) as a song she had discovered working with a project on the great Billie Holliday. An enquiring whole-tone figure developing into an ‘ache in my heart’ melody, thoughtful and pensive over a moving rhythmic swing line. A purposeful growl crept in as Simon Bates conveyed a bluesy feel while Jessica Radcliffe, always fully active, singing or not, was dancing lightly and unobtrusively. A lovely bass solo followed, before a nice near-grimace from Jessica rounded off the song with comic resignation.

After a round of thanks and appreciation from one of Concerts in Caversham’s promoters, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) was the final, witty piece at the end of a great evening’s entertainment: a short, but highly accomplished punctuation mark that left the audience happily wanting more, some time in the not-too-distant future.

In the event, a most enjoyable evening ended very sociably with refreshments and tables groaning with a spread of beautifully-prepared and delicious buffet food, cakes and fruit. With hospitality like this on hand, Concerts in Caversham must surely become Reading’s equivalent to London’s St John’s, Smith Square.

Personally, after hearing and seeing a programme and a band so attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining, I was left with just one criticism: I had been looking forward to hearing more of the recent Simon Lasky compositions, thinking of the striking contrast of which he is capable -check the Simon Lasky Group, six-piece and more near-Cuban in style at times, with influences from such as Pat Metheny.

So having thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of The Great American Song Book, I will be adding to the experience by listening to the “Story Inside”tracks when I’ve completed this review. In my preliminary searches in preparing for this concert, I discovered many links to the other achievements of all the members of the Quartet, and I recommend following them up – this is how we can expand on, and further to enjoy, what we’d discovered tonight!

Also useful were the copious notes Simon Laskyhad added to the programme, making more sense of the term: The Great American Song Book, and its revelations concerning the sophistication of the harmonies found in those early vehicles for jazz improvisation, the Popular Song, many of them written by composers with influences from many traditions, including the classical repertoire.

On stage, the Simon Lasky Quartet had the aura of a group of friends sharing their artistry collaboratively in public, and in contrast to the ‘what shall we play next? Do you know this tune?’ style of many fine jazz groups, this was on a higher plane of discussion. We were privileged to be overhearing sensitive and good humoured conversations about ‘what shall we do now, and what made us choose this?’ A feeling of complete assurance was mixed with eager anticipation of whatever was to follow.


About Concerts in Caversham…
Over a period of eight years, Concerts in Caversham has offered four high quality Classical and Baroque small-ensemble, chamber-orchestra concerts and organ recitals per year. The organisers have now decided to add a fifth concert, a jazz event to their calendar; by the end of this evening, any traces of pre-‘new project’ apprehension on the organisers’ part was evidently dispelled, with a promise of more to come in 2018, and an invitation to the Simon Lasky Quartet to consider being a part of it.

St Andrew’s Church shows great potential for its future as a Jazz Venue north of Reading’s river. Not only were the available pews (cushions available, and added chairs) more than enough for what looked like a large crowd, St Andrew’s provided a big, beautiful space and a very warm and crisp acoustic, perhaps surprising for a tall and resonant church of its age. Fine detail in a jazz quartet performance could have been lost in the outer recesses of such a building, even if they can complement and sustain the sounds of much older music. In this case, and clearly through the quality of sound-checking undertaken by the group, rhythmic tightness, superb intonation and tonal qualities were a pleasure to behold. Amplification was kept to a minimum (it appeared only the bass was enhanced – but very gently) and the vocal sibilants were clearly heard alongside the various mixes of instrumental accompaniments.


Marc Edwards 17th October 2017


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