by Ian Mann
December 24, 2019
Excellent singing and playing and an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!
Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019
Annette Gregory – vocals, John McDonald – piano, Mark Larson – tenor sax, John McKinley- guitar, Dan Wilby – drums
Kidderminster Jazz Club was launched in October 2019 with the inaugural performance by pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet attracting a pleasingly large and appreciative audience. My account of this event, which also takes a look at Kirkland’s latest album “The Music’s On Me”, can be read here;
The Kirkland gig represented a triumph for Kidderminster Jazz Club founder Annette Gregory, who established the organisation following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk
November’s event featured the popular Cotswold based gypsy jazz combo Swing From Paris. I didn’t cover this as it was on the eve of my annual visit to London Jazz Festival, plus the fact that severe flooding affected parts of the Midlands on that particular Thursday night and actually getting to the venue may have proved difficult anyway. Nevertheless the band battled their way through the waters, as did forty or so audience members and another successful evening for Kidderminster Jazz Club was the result.
For the December event singer Gregory elected to perform herself. A popular presence on the Midlands jazz scene Gregory has recorded a number of EPs and has toured regularly, often presenting themed shows such as “Sings Cool Jazz”, “Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald” and “The Ladies of Jazz”.
Tonight’s performance proved to be a bit of a taster for the “Jazz and Me” show that Gregory will be touring in 2020, a production that will see her presenting songs that hold a particular personal significance for her in addition to favourite songs sourced from various stages of her professional career. Tonight’s event also included a couple of Christmas songs, naturally, plus two songs from the pen of George Gershwin, whose music represents a recurring theme throughout this initial Kidderminster Jazz Club series. All the acts will be expected to include a couple of Gershwin tunes in their sets.
The band that Gregory had assembled for tonight’s performance in the Corn Exchange Room at Kidderminster Town Hall was comprised of some of the Midlands’ leading jazz musicians and included her pianist and musical director John McDonald plus Mark Larson (tenor sax), John McKinley (guitar) and Dan Wilby (drums).
There was an authentically Festive atmosphere about the event with Gregory generously providing free mince pies and chocolates for each table plus the gift of a Kidderminster Jazz Club tote bag for each audience member. Thank you very much Annette, greatly appreciated.
The performance commenced with the quartet of Gregory, McDonald, McKinley and Wilby and “Poor Little Rich Girl”, a song sourced from Gregory’s EP “Intimate Affair Volume 1”. Gregory’s version of the song was inspired by the recording by the American vocalist Chris Connor, an artist that Gregory cites as a particularly significant influence.
From the same EP “Close Enough For Love” brought Larson to the stage to share the instrumental solos with McKinley. Larson proved to be an excellent tenor sax soloist with a warm tone that variously reminded me of Lester Young, Ben Webster and Stan Getz. Closer to home I was also reminded of the sound of Shrewsbury based Roy Johnson, another highly accomplished tenor player the mainstream tradition.
“Never Will I Marry” came from Gregory’s “Ladies of Jazz” EP and again featured Larson’s tenor alongside the fluent guitar of the versatile McKinley. An adventurous arrangement, presumably by McDonald, featured his own piano soloing and a flexible vocal from Gregory.
Pianists at Kidderminster Jazz Club are fortunate to have the use of the Town Hall’s Steinway Grand and McDonald deployed the instrument to great effect on the solo piano introduction to a slowed down arrangement of “When I Fall in Love”. His thoughtful and lyrical playing was complemented by Gregory’s elegant vocals and Wilby’s delicately brushed drums. The young drummer is currently a student on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and looks to have a bright future ahead of him.
Gregory’s version of “All The Things You Are” originally appeared in her Ella show and her version of the tune featured her adventurous vocalising alongside instrumental solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of lively drum breaks from Wilby as he traded fours with the other instrumentalists.
The first of the Christmas songs was “Let It Snow”, which saw Gregory’s vivacious vocals complemented by instrumental solos from Larson and McKinley.
A change in mood came with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”, a song suggested by McDonald. This was piece that allowed both the vocalist and the instrumentalists to demonstrate their skills as interpreters of ballads. Gregory’s wistful vocal was augmented by McDonald’s piano lyricism, Larson’s lush, warm tenor tone and Wilby’s delicate brush work.
A bossa style arrangement of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” raised the energy levels once more with instrumental solos from Larson and McDonald.
The last song of an enjoyable first set was the promised Gershwin number, chosen in this case by Larson. The saxophonist’s choice was the rarely heard “Soon”, which was delivered in a freshly swinging arrangement that included solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of exchanges between Wilby and McDonald.
Set two began with something of a musical surprise, a version of the song “Street Life”, a hit for the Crusaders and vocalist Randy Crawford. As Gregory explained it’s a much loved song from her childhood, and one that she plans to include on her “Jazz and Me” tour in 2020. The tune also afforded Larson the chance to stretch out on tenor.
A lightly swinging arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” took us back into something closer to “Songbook” territory, and represented a reminder of Gregory’s admiration for Frank Sinatra and another soloing opportunity for Larson.
The second Gershwin tune of the evening was “How Long Has This Been Going On”, a selection by guitarist John McKinley. Despite a false start this was delightfully languid version of the song, featuring instrumental solos from McKinley and Larson.
This set’s Christmas song was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” with Gregory’s version inspired by the recording by Judy Garland.
McDonald was at the helm for the Sergio Mendes song “So Many Stars”, his quirky piano solo filled with quotes ranging from Miles Davis to James Bond!
The genius of Duke Ellington was represented by “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” with McKinley the featured soloist.
McDonald brought a piece called “Photograph” to the group,the unfamiliar title coming from an English translation of a song by Antonio Calros Jobim.
An enjoyable ‘Christmas Special’ ended on a non-festive note with a version of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” in an arrangement inspired by Frank Sinatra. Solos here came from McKinley on guitar, Larson on tenor and McDonald at the piano.
Tonight’s performance was presented by Gregory with warmth, wit and a disarming frankness. Her singing was variously emotive and flexible in an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!
The musicians were all excellent, combining well with the singer as well as delivering some excellent instrumental solos. I was familiar with McDonald from previous Annette Gregory shows but both Larson and McKinley were new to me and I was very impressed with both. Young drummer Wilby had less chance to shine but his time keeping was immaculate and his accompaniment skilled and tasteful. With McDonald and McKinley both undertaking rhythmic duties the absence of Gregory’s regular bassist Matheus Prado was less keenly felt than it might have been.
Thanks to Annette for announcing my recent Parliamentary Jazz Award win and for providing me with copies of the recent “Ladies of Jazz” and “Intimate Affair EPs, which both represent highly enjoyable listening.
Kidderminster Jazz Club will return at the Town Hall in the New Year with a schedule as follows;
6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet
5th March – Sue Richardson
2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band
7th May – Alan Barnes
4th June – Tina Mayblog comments powered by Disqus