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Francesco Lo Castro Quartet

Francesco Lo Castro Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 25/05/2023.

by Ian Mann

May 26, 2023


Exceptional playing from all four members of the group as they did justice to the intelligence of the prolific Lo Castro’s writing.

Francesco Lo Castro Quartet, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 25/05/2023.

Francesco Lo Castro - guitar, Sam Leak – keyboards, Rob Statham – electric bass, Neil Bullock – drums, percussion

Tonight’s event marked the first anniversary of Music Spoken Here events at The Marr’s Bar venue in Worcester.

Evesham based promoter Dave Fuller named his series after a John McLaughlin album and the focus is on the funk and fusion end of the jazz spectrum. The Marr’s Bar is a small, old school rock venue and frequently hosts a plethora of tribute bands so it’s good to see it presenting something original and different, and particularly something that fits into the jazz framework.

My first Music Spoken Here event was in March 2023 when the American drummer, composer and bandleader Robert Castelli visited leading his Boom! Quartet. The band included the Italian born, London based guitarist and composer Francesco Lo Castro, plus keyboard player Marco Marconi and bassist Jonny Wickham.

Castelli and Boom! delivered a dynamic and hugely enjoyable performance, with Lo Castro playing a vital role in the evening’s success. In addition to some highly skilled guitar playing he also demonstrated his considerable abilities as a composer in a programme comprised of Castelli and Lo Castro originals, plus an arrangement of “Footprints”, performed to honour the memory of the then recently deceased Wayne Shorter.
My review of the Boom! Quartet show can be found here;

Given the good impression that Lo Castro had made with Castelli it came as no surprise to see him being asked back as the leader of his own band. The timing was earlier than originally expected as he stepped in to take over from the advertised Hoop sextet, led by saxophonist Paul Booth. Booth’s commitments elsewhere as a busy session musician accounted for the re-scheduling and Hoop are now due to visit the Marr’s Bar later in 2023.

The band that Lo Castro brought along featured the same instrumental configuration as the Boom! Quartet and several of the Lo Castro tunes that were heard at that show were aired again, but sounding different in the hands of different musicians, as is the way with jazz.

Born in Salerno, Italy Lo Castro moved to London in 1999 and has been a professional musician since 2004. He has also taught guitar at various institutions in London and the Midlands.

A busy musician on the London jazz scene Lo Castro has also recorded on a regular basis, as a visit to his website will reveal. Despite all this he still remains comparatively little known. The quality of his playing and writing at both tonight’s gig and at the Castelli performance suggests that he deserves a far higher profile.

By his own admission Lo Castro finds naming tunes more difficult than writing them. The title of tonight’s opener, “Stranded in Brighton” stems from personal experience, with Lo Castro unable to get back to London after a gig at the Verdict Jazz Club. The music was true fusion, with electric instruments being played with a jazz sensibility. Lo Castro made judicious use of a variety of pedal generated effects while Leak deployed a Roland electric piano and a Roland Gaia synthesiser. I was reminded of Pat Metheny’s synclavier guitar sound,  while the analogue style sounds of the Gaia synth evoked memories of ‘Canterbury’ bands such as Hatfield & The North, National Health and Gilgamesh. Statham’s electric bass was a purveyor of both melody and rhythm, while Bullock moved from brushes to sticks as the music demanded, ably supporting the three soloists.

“Field”, Lo Castro’s homage to fellow guitarist John Scofield, was played at the Castelli gig. Again the piece was distinguished by an infectious funk groove, this underpinning solos from Lo Castro and Leak, the latter adopting an electric piano sound. Bullock, originally from Halesowen, is a Midlands based musician whose playing I have previously enjoyed during his tenure with trumpeter Bryan Corbett. I suspected that his presence here may have been as a ‘dep’ for Lo Castro’s regular London based drummer but it turned out that the guitarist and Bullock knew each other well, having previously taught together in Birmingham. Bullock slotted seamlessly into the quartet and he and Lo Castro clearly relished playing together as they bounced ideas off each other throughout the evening. Bullock’s drum feature on “Field” impressed and his overall contribution to the performance as a whole was consistently excellent.

Lo Castro had been scheduled to record a quartet album during 2020, a plan that was inevitably scuppered by the pandemic. Undeterred he recorded the material himself, making use of technology to overdub himself on guitar, piano, bass and drums. “Imaginary Quartets” was released in 2020 with Lo Castro playing all the instruments. Tonight the title track was “humanised for us”  by a ‘real’ quartet and demonstrated Lo Castro’s gift for creating music capable of combining complexity with a strong sense of melody and rock power with jazz sophistication. The composer’s fleet fingered guitar solo was followed by the swirling sounds of Leak’s synth. Leak has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, but always as an acoustic pianist, variously leading his own trio, the quartet Aquarium and even his own Big Band. He has also appeared on recordings by saxophonists Duncan Eagles, Samuel Eagles and Alex Western-King, trumpeter Mark Perry and fellow pianist Dan Tepfer. Again, I was hugely impressed by my first sighting of Leak in the role of electric keyboard specialist.

“Casual”, another track from the “Imaginary Quartets” album featured a slinky groove and a wah-wah guitar sound and featured solos from Leak on synth, Statham on liquidly melodic bass and the composer on guitar, the latter soaring skywards on the thermals generated by Bullock’s whirlwind drumming.

“Fly High” was also sourced from the same album and was a piece that had been played with Robert Castelli. Lo Castro’s solo saw him making effective use of the sustain pedal and playing with a controlled intensity that sometimes reminded me of the late, great Allan Holdsworth. A strong rock influence informed his playing as he continued to bounce ideas off Bullock. Leak had the unenviable task of following him on synth.

During 2019, yes prior to the pandemic, Lo Castro set himself the challenge of writing a new tune for every week of the year. Amazingly he managed to complete it too, and was clearly still full of ideas even towards the end. “Week 44” was evidence of this, a winning blend of funk and Americana influences that again tapped into the spirit of Scofield and which saw Leak mixing electric piano and synth sounds as he shared the solos with the composer. The performance was also notable for Bullock’s drum feature, which saw him generating an impressive power through the use of brushes alone.

This had been a long set and we had enjoyed plenty of excellent music for our money. The second was a little shorter but still filled with good sounds.

Set two commenced with “Funkettone”, another tune that had been featured at the Castelli show. Tonight’s version was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, with bass, keys and drums subsequently joining to lay down a seductive funk groove. This provided the platform for solos from Leak on synth, Statham with an extended outing on electric bass and Lo Castro on guitar. Statham’s melodic, but supple and intensely rhythmic bass playing was another key component of the quartet’s sound. An electric bass specialist his playing has previously been heard with saxophonist Hannah Horton, the London based latin band Paz and John Etheridge’s Zappatistas.

I wrote earlier of Lo Castro’s difficulty with titling tunes. A previously unnamed 2017 composition now became “Music Spoken There”, in honour of the first birthday of Music Spoken Here. Lo Castro even presented a delighted Dave Fuller with a copy of the sheet music after the gig. The music was rich in terms of colour and texture with both Lo Castro and Leak making imaginative use of the various electronics at their disposal.

Next came “And Then There Was You”, a piece dating back to 2010 and recorded on the album “Improfives”, a recording featuring the talents of a quintet of London based Italian musicians. The band was co-led by Lo Castro and saxophonist Roberto Manzin and also featured pianist Maurizio Minardi, bassist Nick Pini and drummer Francesco Mendolia. I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of them, with the exception of Mendolia, perform live in various contexts over the years.
Lo Castro informed us that this was the first tune he wrote following his move to the UK and it has aged well, combining strong melodies with powerful rhythms as the piece began to build up a head of steam. The effective use of dynamic contrasts is a characteristic of Lo Castro’s writing and the piece began quietly, featuring the melodic interplay between the leader’s guitar and Statham’s electric bass.  Leak soloed on electric piano and Lo Castro on electric guitar, the performance culminating in a powerful drum feature from Bullock.

“Week 48” represented another dip into the 2019 project and was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar. A strong melodic theme then combined with a buoyant groove on an attractive composition that graduated through the composer’s guitar solo into an extended drum feature for the dynamic Bullock. The same piece has been played earlier in the year by the Boom! Quartet, when it had also represented a showcase for Castelli.

Lo Castro acknowledged the presence of some of his student in the audience before introducing the last tune, “From A to B”, introduced by Bullock at the drums and featuring solos from Lo Castro on guitar and Leak on synth. As with the Castelli band the phrase “intelligent fusion” again came to mind and I was also reminded of the sound of “Blow by Blow” era Jeff Beck. Bullock’s feature, which included some impressive bare hand drumming,  was followed by some chunky collective riffing as the evening drew to a dynamic close.

These had been two very long sets and despite the positive reaction from the audience there was insufficient time for an encore. Nevertheless we had enjoyed some exceptional playing from all four members of the group as they did justice to the intelligence of the prolific Lo Castro’s writing.

My thanks to Sam Leak and Francesco Lo Castro for speaking with me after the gig and to Francesco for gifting me copies of two of his CDs – I’m pleased to report that he sold a few as well.

The aforementioned “Improfives” was one of these, accompanied by “Into The Unknown” a 2014 recording credited to DLC Project. This is a quartet under the co-leadership of Lo Castro and saxophonist Eric DeFade in the company of bassist Tony DePaolis and drummer Tom Wendt.

“Improfives” features six tunes by Manzin and four by Lo Castro. The guitarist is the main composer on the DLC Project recording with four tunes to DeFade’s three, plus one co-write. Both albums are highly enjoyable and each is accessible and melodic, although lacking the raw rock power of tonight’s performance.

These two releases are available, together with a number of other recordings, from Lo Castro’s Bandcamp page.

Thanks to Francesco and the quartet for an excellent evening of music and to Dave Fuller on the first birthday of Music Spoken Here – there were even balloons and banners. Seriously, it’s great to have quality jazz related music in Worcester and hopefully the series will continue to go from strength.

Other forthcoming Music Spoken Here promotions at the Marr’s Bar are;

THURSDAY, 22 JUNE 2023 AT 20:00
Music Spoken Here presents Zeñel
Limited  tickets available at 20% off with promo code EARLYBIRD – Offer ends 25 May 2023
Energetic, innovative and eclectic mix of beats, sounds and improvisation - no labels, just brilliant music!
Zeñel is a London-based quartet with a unique approach to computer-based performance, allowing them to create a poetic combination of jazz improvisation and electronic music. Their style is centred around sounds seldom heard in live band contexts, drawing upon influences from a plethora of electronic production styles including grime, UK drill, Afrobeats and future bass.
Zeñel are Laurence Wilkins (trumpet, guitar, electronics), Alex Wilson (keys), Jay Verma (keys) and Zoe Pascal (drums)

Law of Three
July 20 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Breathtaking virtuosity and innovation from a power-trio melding aspects of jazz, world, blues, funk, gypsy and classical music
World-renowned multi-genre guitar virtuoso, composer and Fusion pioneer, Roy Marchbank formed Law of Three in 2022 with Andy Edwards (Robert Plant, IQ, Frost`*) on drums and Mark Hartley on bass. They bring together a broad range of musical influences and technology with incredibly skilled musicianship to deliver a unique fusion experience! Be among the first to see this power-trio perform live.

Jingu Bang
October 5 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Limited  tickets available at 20% off with promo code EARLYBIRD – Offer ends 5 September 2023!
Funk-fusion mastery honouring the works of Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, Brotherly and others along with their own creations
During unsettled times, five travellers from distant lands went in search of their destiny. In the imposing mountains soaring high above the bamboo forests of Bristol, they banded together as one unstoppable force, and accepted the calling of the JINGU BANG.
Their free-flowing funk mastery is expressed across the lands through both their own creations and by honouring the works of Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, Brotherly and others.
Join them in the earthly realms as they leave no stone unturned in their mission to bring you their irrepressible… funky magic!
Jingu Bang are Scott Hammond (drums), Greig Robinson (bass), Lisa Cherian (percussion), Dale Hambridge (keys) and Ruth Hammond (sax/flute/vocoder).

Check out for more information.

The Marrs Bar
12 Pierpoint Street
WR1 1TA.
Phone: (01905) 613336

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