by Ian Mann
December 14, 2021
Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist Nigel Price's 'Organ Trio + 1" and takes a look at his latest album "Wes Reimagined".
Nigel Price Organ Trio + 1, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/12/2021.
Nigel Price – guitar, Ross Stanley – Hammond B3 organ, Eryl Roberts – drums,
Vasilis Xenopoulos – tenor saxophone
At last! This Shrewsbury Jazz Network gig featuring a quartet led by guitarist Nigel Price had been postponed twice due to Covid restrictions, but finally here they were, fired up and all ready to go in front of an expectant live audience.
Price is one of the hardest working musicians in jazz, an artist who in pre-pandemic days toured relentlessly. This date was originally scheduled as part of a tour promoting Price’s most recent album release, “Wes Reimagined”, released on Ubuntu Music in June 2021. The Shrewsbury show had initially been due to occur pretty much half way through the tour but in the wake of the postponements was now the final date. Price and his colleagues were determined to go out with a bang.
Former soldier Price was a relatively late comer to the ranks of professional jazz musicians but has wasted little time since. He was once a member of Hammond guru James Taylor’s long running JTQ before running his own organ based groups. Price also spent a lengthy tenure with the acid jazz outfit The Filthy Six. He has recorded with Van Morrison and with jazz vocalist Georgia Mancio and is a regular member of the Ronnie Scott’s house band. His guitar influences include Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino and John McLaughlin. To date he has recorded nine albums as a leader as well as appearing as a sideman on more than fifty others. Along the way he also single handedly rescued Swanage Jazz Festival and helped to revive the fortunes of Shepperton Jazz Club.
Given Price’s formidable work ethic it’s perhaps not surprising that I’ve seen him perform live on numerous previous occasions at club and festival dates in Brecon, Abergavenny, Lichfield and Shrewsbury. His most recent previous visit to The Hive was in September 2018 when he led a quartet featuring Xenopoulos, organist Liam Dunachie and drummer Steve Brown. Guest contributor Trevor Bannister has also reviewed shows by Price in Reading and Guildford, the last named of these a livestream event in May 2021.
Like his jazz guitar hero, Wes Montgomery, Price has a fondness for the organ trio format, often augmenting the line up with a saxophonist, usually the Greek born Vasilis Xenopoulos. Most of Price’s recordings are in the organ trio / quartet format and previous group members have included organists Pete Whittaker and Jim Watson, saxophonist Alex Garnett and drummer Matt Home.
His current quartet features Stanley, Xenopoulos and drummer Joel Barford. This line up appeared in a superb livestream production from Brecon Jazz Club in December 2020, a performance that had whetted my appetite for tonight’s genuine live performance.
At the Hive the unavailable Barford was replaced by the Manchester based drummer Eryl Roberts, a musician with whom Price has worked on numerous previous occasions. Roberts obviously has an affinity for working with guitarists, many moons ago he was a member of Gary Boyle’s “Triple Echo” group, and he fitted in seamlessly, delivering an excellent performance alongside his similarly brilliant colleagues.
The material that Price chose to play at Shrewsbury was a mix of Wes Montgomery tunes and Price’s own compositions. Most of these were ‘contrafacts’, new melodies written around the chord sequences of existing jazz compositions and were sourced from Price’s “Heads and Tales” series of albums.
The recent “Wes Reimagined” album does just that with Price taking a selection of some of Montgomery’s most famous tunes and giving them a different “feel”.
His liner notes explain something of the process;
“Some decisions as to what ‘feel’ a piece will be in are made very quickly, sometimes on the day of a recording session. I got to thinking that there was every chance that many of these tunes could easily have come out sounding very different if Wes had just been in alternative frame of mind on the day. I haven’t tried to re-invent the wheel, it’s just a kind of ‘what if?’”
“I also think that Wes’ honest, direct and melodic style directly influenced a lot of the funk, soul, boogaloo and earthy groove music that was to come shortly after his passing. I have no doubt that Wes would have been at the forefront of that movement too. I’ve therefore intertwined some of these styles with Wes’s music. I’m also sure there would have been a samba or too in the repertoire before too long, had he not left us so prematurely”. (Montgomery died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1968, when still only in his mid forties).
The album features the core group of Price, Stanley and Barford with contributions from saxophonists Xenopoulos (tenor) and Tony Kofi (alto). Snowboy, Price’s associate from the Acid Jazz days, appears on various items of percussion while Callum Au contributes trombone and also adds some judicious string arrangements. These are performed by the Phonograph Effect Strings (Kay Stephens & Anna Brigham – violins, Elitsa Bogdanova – viola, Chris Terepin – cello).
It all adds up to an intriguing and engaging listening experience, but tonight it’s back to basics with this classic hard grooving, ferociously swinging quartet. I was particularly delighted that Stanley had brought along “The Beast”, a classic Hammond B3 organ, whose sound was put through not just one, but two Leslie speaker cabinets.
I’d like to thank promoters SJN, and particularly Hamish Kirkpatrick, for giving me a front row seat, all the better to watch Stanley’s dancing feet on the Hammond’s pedalboard, and Price’s phenomenal technique on his signature, custom made ‘Londoner’ archtop guitar.
Set one commenced with Price’s own “Wet and Dry”, a contrafact based around the chords of “Come Rain or Come Shine”. This was introduced by a short passage of unaccompanied guitar, before the rest of the band kicked in with Xenopoulos stating the main melodic theme on tenor, before embarking on the first solo of the evening. Xenopoulos is a highly accomplished sax soloist,
fluent and inventive and thoroughly immersed in the jazz tradition. He was followed by Price on guitar and Stanley on organ, two musicians who exhibit these very same qualities. We were also to enjoy a spirited series of tenor / guitar exchanges between Xenopoulos and the leader.
The first of the Montgomery tunes was “Far Wes”, reimagined as an uptempo waltz with solos coming from Price, Xenopoulos and Stanley.
A second Price contrafact, “Stealing Time”, took its title from the lyrics of the Kurt Weill song “Speak Low”, upon which it was based. An urgent, complex, bebop inspired head featured the precise ensemble playing of the quartet before leading into a series of fiery solos, with Stanley igniting the flame with a blazing Hammond solo. Price followed on guitar, and then Xenopoulos on tenor. In acknowledgement of the season the latter threw a quote from “Good King Wenceslas” into his solo, eliciting a smile from the busily comping Price. The impressive Roberts also caught the eye and ear with a hard hitting drum feature.
After this explosion of energy Price elected to cool things down a little with a ballad. His contrafact “Don’t Look Back” was a second piece with its title based on the lyric of an existing composition, in this instance “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. This featured a number of unaccompanied guitar episodes as Price shared the solos with Xenopoulos’ tenor and Stanley’s church like Hammond. Meanwhile Roberts revealed a more sensitive side of his playing, deftly wielding brushes throughout.
The energy levels increased again as the quartet rounded off the first set with “Booze Blooz”, a Price original that he cheerfully admitted had been written while he was nursing a hangover. He and Xenopoulos doubled up on the opening theme before the saxophonist embarked on the opening solo, accompanied by a walking bass line generated by Stanley’s pedals. Price then took over on guitar, his solo again incorporating an unaccompanied passage. Stanley then let rip on the Hammond before he, Price and Xenopoulos vigorously traded fours with the busy Roberts. A terrific way to round off a vibrant first set.
Things got back under way with the Price contrafact “All In”, based on the standard “Body & Soul”. Indeed Price set the ball rolling with an unaccompanied chorus of “Body & Soul” before the rest of the band came in. Further solos came from Xenopoulos, Price and Stanley before Roberts enjoyed a further drum feature.
From the Montgomery recording came Wes’ tune “So Do It!”, a formerly uptempo tune now delivered as a “downbeat and moody bolero”. Apparently guitarist Kenny Burrell had given the piece a similar treatment on his album “Live at the Village Vanguard” and it was this version that had inspired Price. Solos here came from Stanley on Hammond, Price on guitar and Xenopoulos on tenor.
From the same album Montgomery’s “Movin’ Along” was delivered in a funk and fusion style that largely flourished after the composer’s death – that “what if?” factor again. Introduced by Roberts at the drums this was taken at a ferocious pace with Stanley adding a screaming Hammond solo and Price generating the kind of guitar twang that reached back to his roots as a rock and fusion guitarist. As he had informed us his eventual discovery of Montgomery and subsequently of bebop had represented something of an epiphany. Xenopoulos then entered into a series of fiery exchanges with Stanley, propelled by Price’s furious guitar comping and Roberts’ dynamic drumming.
The set concluded with “Bittersweet”, written by the late bassist Sam Jones (1924-81) and described by Price as “a blues with a bridge”. This kept the pot bubbling nicely with the tricky unison head leading to solos from Xenopoulos on tenor, Price on guitar and Stanley on organ, the latter generating a wide range of sounds and exploring the full extent of the Hammond’s sonic capabilities. Finally Roberts entered into a series of dynamic exchanges with the other three musicians.
The supportive audience reacted with great enthusiasm and SJN’s Mike Wright had little difficulty in bringing back the band for a deserved encore. This proved to be Montgomery’s “Road Song”, originally performed as a bossa nova but now transformed into a “raucous shuffle”. With its hooky melody and infectious shuffle beat this proved to be a great way to round off an evening of excellent music, with solos coming from Stanley, Xenopoulos, and Price himself.
As Price says this isn’t music that seeks to re-invent the wheel, and if one were being overly picky one could cite the head / solos / head format that informed most of these tunes as being overly predictable. But such potential criticisms were inevitably blown away by the sheer energy and excellence of the performances, particularly the brilliant soloing from all the musicians involved. This was also a tight and cohesive unit that has played together on a regular basis, with Roberts fitting in perfectly. This is the style of music that Nigel Price loves and he plays it with total conviction.
This was a great way to round off 2021 at The Hive, a difficult year that has seen the SJN programme curtailed. Nevertheless there have still been some great gigs here since July, among them Annie Whitehead, Rory Ingham, Andrea Vicari, Alex Hitchcock, Byron Wallen and now Nigel Price. The 2022 programme is now taking shape. Let’s hope that the coming year will see fewer disruptions.
My thanks to Ross Stanley for speaking with me at the interval and after the gig. In addition to being a brilliant musician he’s one of the nicest guys in British jazz.
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