by Ian Mann
November 16, 2020
An impressive performance from Facey and his quartet ,delivered with great skill and with an air of total conviction and commitment.
Nathaniel Facey Quartet,
Livestream from The Green Note, Camden, 13/11/2020.
Part of the 2020 EFG London Jazz Festival
Nathaniel Facey – alto saxophone, David Preston – guitar, Tom Farmer – double bass, Shane Forbes - drums
INTRODUCTION – EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2020
For several years now the EFG London Jazz Festival has represented an annual personal highlight, the chance to enjoy the vibrancy of a big city, as opposed to the rural backwater where I usually reside, the chance to catch up with friends from the UK jazz scene and beyond, and, of course the opportunity to see and hear some great music in some iconic London jazz venues.
We had decided some time ago that a visit to this year’s EFG LJF, even in its planned part live / part digital incarnation, wasn’t going to be a practical proposition for us and I was reluctantly resigned to watching online from afar. Now, of course, with the current lockdown everybody is in the same boat.
To be honest I’ve been never so glad to live in a ‘rural backwater’, with open countryside virtually on the on the doorstep and with a lower infection rate than the majority of the country. It certainly makes you ‘count your blessings’, but I can’t deny that I’ve missed playing and watching live sport, trips to the pub, and of course, live music.
If 2020 has been a tough year for music fans it’s been even worse for musicians and for all those associated with the industry. Everybody involved has my sincere sympathy. Hopefully the on-line jazz feast that will constitute the 2020 version of the EFG LJF will bring a welcome financial and spiritual boost to all those involved with the staging of the myriad of livestreams that will be transmitted during the course of the Festival.
Even though I can’t be there for real I intend to drop in to some of the events on the ‘free to view’ programme, and to report on these for the Jazzmann. For genuine live events I would normally have sorted out my press passes a couple of months in advance. With the uncertainties around this year’s Festival I’ve resisted the temptation to apply for ‘e-passes’ to the higher profile performances in favour of the less formal option of dropping in to events on the ‘free to view’ programme whenever they take my fancy.
NATHANIEL FACEY QUARTET
Among the events on the ‘free to view’ programme on the first day of the Festival was this livestream from the Green Note in Camden, one of my favourite London venues, by the Nathaniel Facey Quartet.
Alto saxophonist Facey is best known as a member of the group Empirical, and this show from the Green Note featured two of his colleagues from that band, Tom Farmer on double bass and Shane Forbes at the drums. The quartet was completed by guitarist David Preston, best known to audiences as a member of the collaborative trio Preston/Glasgow/Lowe, alongside electric bass specialist Kevin Glasgow and drummer Laurie Lowe.
Tonight’s livestream was the first of four Festival events at the Green Note to be presented by Clonmell Jazz Social, or CJS, the London based promotion network led by guitarist Harry Christelis of the band Moostak Trio.
CJS) stages jazz and improvised music events across London, including the Summer Jazz Weekender free festival in Greenwich, and much of the jazz programme at the Green Note.
Following a short introduction by a member of the CJS staff, filmed remotely, Facey and his quartet took to the tiny Green Note stage to present a programme of original compositions from Facey and Preston, plus an opening number written by the late American tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson (1937 -2001).
The Henderson tune featured fluent solos from Facey and Preston as Farmer and Forbes provided suitably propulsive support. With the ‘three Fs’, Facey, Forbes and Farmer, having played together for years as members of Empirical it came as no surprise that the quartet exuded that air of ‘tight but loose’, that only comes from a highly developed musical rapport. Sharply dressed as ever Facey introduced the other members of the band as the trio continued to play, “Covid 19 can’t stop us!” he announced, with an air of defiance. Amongst all this the title of the Henderson tune remained unmentioned, but I wondered if it may have been “Recorda Me”, a composition that seems to have become a bit of a favourite among contemporary jazz musicians. There were plenty of Facey’s fellow musicians watching on line, among them pianist Ivo Neame, guitarist Hannes Riepler and saxophonists George Crowley and Jason Yarde, so maybe somebody can enlighten me.
I was on surer ground with the original pieces, all of which were given detailed introductions by the articulate Facey. Facey’s own “One For Bones Jones” was dedicated to the American mixed martial arts star Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. “It’s a tune about spatial awareness” explained Facey, a phrase that also epitomised the quartet itself, which handled the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic complexities of Facey’s music with consummate skill. Again Facey and Preston were featured as soloists and the piece also included a feature from drummer Shane Forbes. This was the kind of performance that in more normal circumstances would have generated ecstatic applause in the intimate environment of the Green Note. The silence that greeted the end of each tune was all too noticeable, as several watchers noted on the interactive thread, but it failed to shake the confidence of the musicians and in no way affected the assurance and intensity of the performance.
Facey is a supremely fluent soloist who plays with an impressive technical facility and whose tone combines purity with a certain intensity and incisiveness. Charlie Parker is an obvious source inspiration, tenor man John Coltrane perhaps less so. Perhaps Facey, a devout Christian, has absorbed something of Coltrane’s spirituality, although it must be said that Coltrane has also exerted a considerable influence on other alto players, such as the recently departed Peter King.
A third key source of inspiration for Facey is the late multiple reed player Eric Dolphy. Indeed Empirical’s second album, “Out ‘n’ In”, released in 2009 was a tribute to Dolphy’s memory and represented the first recording by the long running Empirical line up of Facey, Farmer, Forbes and vibraphonist Lewis Wright, the instrumental configuration being exactly the same as that on Dolphy’s celebrated “Out To Lunch” album, arguably his most famous recording.
From the “Out ‘ n’ In” recording came Facey’s own tribute to Dolphy, the sombre but beautiful “A Bitter End For A Tender Giant”, described by its composer at the time as a “a prayer of thanks and respect”. Facey plays bass clarinet on the recording but here the piece lost none of its beauty and power by being played on alto, with Farmer’s bowed bass and the muted thunder of Forbes’ mallet rumbles adding to the gravity of the performance, The solos from both Facey on alto and Preston on guitar were a lament for the sad circumstances of Dolphy’s passing. This was a collective performance of great majesty, subdued power and a grave and savage beauty. “Deep”, read the single word comment from promoters CJS, which seemed to encapsulate the performance in the form of a single word.
The next piece saw the band raising the energy levels on Facey’s composition “The Two Edged Sword”, which featured a blistering solo from the composer as the group went into sax trio mode, with Forbes’ dynamic drumming spurring the leader on to new heights of invention and intensity.
Preston eventually managed to find his way in to the ongoing maelstrom, eventually asserting himself with a powerful solo. A passage of dialogue between Farmer and Forbes then led into a full on drum feature from the latter. This was a performance of searing intensity that left both the band and their online audience gasping for breath.
It may be tempting to think of this group as Empirical, but with Preston replacing Lewis Wright. But it is genuinely a separate entity, as demonstrated by the inclusion of two of the guitarist’s own compositions. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied double bass from Farmer “Vader” was a languid, loosely structured piece that emphasised the fluid interaction between the members of the quartet, with Facey, Preston and Forbes all featuring prominently at various points in the proceedings.
Solo guitar ushered in Preston’s provocatively titled “Snot Meridian”, which introduced a contemporary, ‘math rock’ element to the proceedings with its rapid fire arpeggios and intense performances, with Preston and Facey featuring as soloists and with Forbes’ drums again coming to the fore.
There was a change of style and mood for the next piece, which Facey announced as the final number. Facey’s ballad “Sweetest Like The Doorway From Heaven” was dedicated to the composer’s fiancée, Victoria. With Forbes deploying a combination of brushes and bare hands Facey stated the theme on alto, before handing over to Preston for a guitar solo distinguished by its floating elegance.
However this wasn’t quite the end as the piece segued into a fragile, beautiful version of “The Londonderry Air” aka “Danny Boy”, played by Facey and Preston as a duo, with Facey’s pure toned statement of the melody embellished by Preston’s guitar shading and texturing.
This was an impressive performance from Facey and his quartet, featuring an intelligent mix of original compositions, plus a single bop standard and the final bonus of a traditional folk tune. All the performances were delivered with great skill and with an air of total conviction and commitment.
The video coverage was simple and effective and of high quality, so thanks are due to Freeze Productions and Undular Productions, media partners of CJS, for their roles in the presentation of this event.
The other events in the CJS / Freeze / Undular series at the Green Note are;
Sunday 15/11/2020 - Total Vibration feat. Laura Jurd and Chris Batchelor 7.00 pm
Friday 20//11/2020 - Amalga
Sunday 22/11/2020 – Moostak Trio
All events are free to view, but with a minimum suggested donation of £!0.00
I am conscious that by the time this review is posted the Total Vibration performance will already have been streamed, but like this Nathaniel Facey gig it will still be available for catch up on Youtube via the EFG London Jazz Festival website, http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk
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