by Ian Mann
March 01, 2010
Good natured, thoroughly entertaining and featuring some excellent playing, particularly from the leader.
Mornington Lockett is one of Britain’s leading tenor saxophonists and it represented quite a coup for Black Mountain Jazz to persuade him to come to Abergavenny for this club performance at BMJ’s regular venue The Kings Arms.
I saw Lockett give a brilliant performance as one of the “Three Tenors” alongside Art Themen and Don Weller at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2007 (their Appleby performance of that same year is immortalised on a double CD from Trio Records) and as a result I was very much looking forward to this.
Tonight Lockett was playing with a trio of young musicians from Cardiff, graduates from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Chris Gilligan (piano), Chris Hyson (bass) and drummer Gethin Jones regularly back visiting soloists but they also have their own trio project Little Fish, in which they perform original music inspired by the likes of Neil Cowley and E.S.T. It was in this incarnation that I once saw them support Cowley’s trio at a gig at the now sadly defunct Cardiff venue The Point and very entertaining they were too, if a little derivative.
Obviously one couldn’t expect tonight’s show to reach the heights of the Three Tenors but it was still good natured, thoroughly entertaining and featured some excellent playing, particularly from the leader. It was certainly a good deal better than a rather lukewarm session with a local rhythm section that I saw Lockett perform in Hereford a few years ago.
Most of the pieces played tonight were lengthy excursions in the head/solos/head format with each member of the band soloing on virtually every number. If the format was rather predictable it was saved by the quality of the playing and the choice of some interesting material, including a couple of Pat Metheny tunes.
Lockett’s appreciation of Metheny comes rather obliquely via Pat’s work with the late, great Michael Brecker, a musician for whom Lockett still clearly has a great admiration. Hence the trio kicked off with “Timeline”, an obscure Metheny composition that only ever saw the light of day on a Brecker record (“Time Is Of The Essence”). The first thing that strikes you about Lockett’s playing is the hugeness of his sound and the purity of his tone, both qualities that Brecker had in abundance. Lockett played tonight totally unmiked but his sound cut through effortlessly. Ian Carr once described Metheny as a “long distance improviser” and that’s what Lockett is too. He took off on a marathon, blues inflected solo powered on by Jones’ propulsive drumming. This was a statement of intent from Lockett that established his credentials as a top quality improviser very early on. Gilligan followed him, his solo here as elsewhere full of good ideas. Unfortunately he suffered in comparison to Lockett due to the quietness of his instrument. There had been an earlier problem with the piano mic which had slightly delayed the start of the evening and there was insufficient volume on the piano pretty much throughout. Not that this should detract from the high level of musicianship displayed by this highly promising young player. Hyson came next, he’s a fluent and dexterous soloist who was particularly impressive on an earlier BMJ date when he visited the club with alto player Martin Speake. Finally Lockett traded choruses with drummer Jones. All a bit predictable maybe, but also very exciting and this first number was well received by a large BMJ crowd. This was the best turn out BMJ had received for a while and organiser Mike Skilton must have been delighted. It was good to see a number of youngsters in the audience , presumably music students supporting their young mates on the bandstand.
Cole Porter’s “I Love You” was the vehicle for a similar work out with Lockett soloing first , sometimes coaxing high register shrieks and wails from his instrument. Jones was clearly thinking on his feet and as a general rule deployed sticks behind Lockett and brushes behind the quieter Gilligan. The pianist delivered another inventive solo and the piece also included a feature for the impressive young drummer.
“Body And Soul” saw Lockett lower the energy levels for a lovely version of this classic ballad. Hyson’s lyrical solo above Gilligan’s sympathetic piano chording and Jones’ delicate hand drumming was a particular delight as was a solo tenor interlude during which the trio dropped out altogether.
At this point Lockett called fellow tenor player Dominic Norcross to the stage. The young player from Narbeth, West Wales brought his own group to BMJ for a highly entertaining show just over a year ago, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site. “Nobody enjoys a jam more than me” said the affable Lockett as the expanded group launched into a high octane version of Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness”. The two saxophonists traded licks and solos with Norcross going first followed by Lockett, Gilligan, Hyson, shadowed by the drums, and finally Jones himself. The reprisal of the theme featured thrilling interlocking horns and ended the first set on a high note. Great stuff.
Of course Lockett is no stranger to the twin tenor line up. He’s a sometime member, with fellow tenorist Nigel Hitchcock, of the “New Couriers”, the band led by drummer Martin Drew that pays homage to the seminal Jazz Couriers fronted by Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes. The current edition of the New Couriers replaces Hitchcock with vibraphonist Jim Hart, a move which acknowledges Tubby’s mastery of the vibes, his second instrument.
After sampling the Kings’ delicious and popular tapas menu during the break we sat back for the second half expecting more of the same. We were not to be disappointed as the second set kicked on from the first with the whole band visibly more relaxed. The material seemed to suit them better too kicking off with Pat Metheny’s “Song For Bilbao”, inspired in this instance by the version on Michael Brecker’s “Tales From The Hudson” album. Besides Lockett’s lusty blowing there was a fine Latin influenced piano solo from Gilligan and a similarly flavoured drum feature for Jones.
In more subdued mood came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own” which we’d had a sneak preview of during sound check. Wheeler’s beautiful melody fitted the band well with Lockett , Gilligan and Hyson all delivering impressively lyrical solo statements. The piece ended quietly with just the sound of Jones’s brushed cymbals.
The standard “Alone Together” was taken at an uncharacteristically brisk pace with Lockett stating the theme before handing over for Gilligan to solo. The highlight here came when piano and bass dropped leaving just tenor and drums. This dramatic and inspired duet featured Lockett honking and wailing in declamatory fashion above a ferocious drum barrage as Gethin Jones channelled the spirit of his namesake Elvin.
Norcross returned to the stage for the final number, an extended and energetic work out on “I Got Rhythm” .Jones’s drums led things off with the two tenors immediately locking horns with Lockett soling first. Norcross’ solo was his best of the night blowing strongly above a strong piano/bass vamp and Jones’ insistent ride cymbal. Jones’ own solo saw him sketching the melody on his toms and the whole thing finished with the two tenors exchanging phrases in a kind of chase with Lockett taking the lead.
A packed and enthusiastic audience weren’t going to let them go that easily and the five piece barnstormed their way through Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time” to send everyone home happy. Unfortunately promoter Mike Skilton’s tenor playing daughter Martha didn’t join them to forge a new three tenors line up. On this occasion she was armed with a camera instead, dutifully documenting the occasion. Shame really, she’d have been so much easier on the eye than Don Weller.
This had been a great evening for Black Mountain Jazz and it is to be hoped that all those who were so well entertained tonight will return for what looks to be a very strong spring/early summer programme at BMJ. The Gilligan trio will return in April to back Empirical’s alto player Nathaniel Facey. Full details of all upcoming BMJ gigs will be entered on our listings pages.blog comments powered by Disqus