by Ian Mann
March 05, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys this event in the new Music Spoken Here series and the sounds of drummer / composer Robert Castelli's Boom! Quartet, supported by a young, local trio led by Tom Hodgkins.
Robert Castelli Boom! Quartet / Tom Hodgkins Trio, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 02/03/2023.
Robert Castelli - drums, Francesco LoCastro - guitar, Marco Marconi - keyboards, Jonny Wickham – electric bass
Tom Hodgkins – vocals, keyboard, guitar, Luke Glattback – drums, Isaac Bell – electric bass
Tonight’s event was the second in a series of events at the Marr’s Bar presented by the Evesham based promoter Dave Fuller under the banner Music Spoken Here, the name of the series sourced from the title of a John McLaughlin album.
Fuller describes his organisation’s mission statement thus;
“Music Spoken Here is a brand new project to connect new and exceptional musicians throughout the UK with appreciative audiences and other services in the West Midlands. Focusing on original jazz fusion, funk, soul, blues and Latin, music that sits outside the mainstream rock and ‘calco-pop’ that’s already well represented elsewhere”.
Introduced to the sounds of fusion by bands such as McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever Fuller’s first musical love remains electric jazz, funk and fusion and this inaugural programme of events at Worcester venue The Marr’s Bar reflects this.
The series got off to a great start in February with a well attended visit from Project PH , a sextet led by bassist Yolanda Charles. As we queued up outside the venue while the soundchecks were being completed a fellow audience member enthused about the Project PH show and was also clearly looking forward to tonight.
The Marr’s Bar is a small, old school rock venue and frequently hosts a plethora of tribute bands so it was good to see it presenting something original and different, and particularly something that fits into the jazz spectrum. My last visit to the venue had been as far back as 2017 and an appearance by the American guitarist B.D. Lenz and his trio. Having seen the programme that Fuller has put together for the first half of 2023 I imagine that I will be returning on a more regular basis from now on.
The Project PH show had taken place on a Saturday night and on a wintry Thursday evening at a somewhat chilly Marr’s Bar numbers were unfortunately somewhat lower for the visit of Castelli and the Boom! Quartet. However the energy of a small but attentive and enthusiastic audience still helped to make this a night to remember.
Born in New York State of Italian heritage into a drumming family (his father and uncle were both pro drummers) Castelli started playing at a very early age and in addition to his obvious skill behind the kit he is also a talented composer and bandleader. He has lived and worked in Europe for many years, first basing himself in Austria before moving to Spain and settling in Barcelona.
I had been looking forward to this gig more keenly than most. I first saw Castelli perform back in 2010 at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival when he led a London based quartet featuring guitarist Nicolas Meier, saxophonist Dave O’Higgins and bassist Patrick Bettison at Theatr Brycheiniog. That was an early morning gig but it was a highly enjoyable event that helped to get the day off to a great start. My review of that performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
After the show I spoke with Robert Castelli and he was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the first Boom! Quartet album from 2008, which included a number of the tunes that had been played at Brecon. It featured an Austrian quartet comprised of saxophonist Tom Muller, guitarist Mike Scharf and the curiously named bassist Struzi, who also acted as recording engineer. My review of that recording, which I described at the time as being “a muscular but intelligent brand of fusion and funk” can be found here;
2010 saw Castelli introducing new material and a new Austrian quartet featuring saxophonist Sebastian Grimus, guitarist Roland Stonek and bassist Hannes Steif on the live recording “Live at Porgy & Bess Vienna”. Besides leading from behind the kit Castelli also enjoyed a brief cameo on acoustic guitar in a flamenco flavoured duet with Stonek. Album review here;
In 2020 and now resident in Barcelona after thirteen years in Austria Castelli introduced another new version of Boom!, a truly international quartet featuring other musicians based in Barcelona. In addition to the leader the group included Argentinian guitarist Dani Perez, Swiss keyboard player Gilles Estoppey and the only Spaniard in the group, bassist Emilio Martin, who hails from Gran Canaria.
Their album “Party at One World Plaza” features Castelli’s writing exclusively (the two earlier albums had also included compositions by other band members) and is a digital only release. I usually only cover physical releases but after having remained in regular email contact with Castelli since 2010 I was prepared to make an exception and was very pleased that I did so. “Party at One World Plaza” represents Castelli’s most satisfying album thus far and is reviewed here;
I still wish it was also available on CD though.
The “Party at One World Plaza” material formed the basis for tonight’s show which featured a London based version of Boom! featuring the Italian musicians Francesco LoCastro (guitar) and Marco Marconi (keyboards) plus the Briton Jonny Wickham on five string electric bass. The material included compositions by both Castelli and LoCastro plus one inspired cover, but I’ll come to that later.
Prior to Castelli’s set we enjoyed a performance by the young support act, the Tom Hodgkins Trio. Part of the Music Spoken Here remit is to provide performance opportunities for up and coming musicians who write and play their own material, eschewing the easy ‘covers band’ route.
Hodgkins and his colleagues are music students at Kidderminster College where their tutors have included vocalist Jonn Penney, of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin fame. Hodgkins sings, writes his own songs and also plays piano and guitar. He has worked regularly in a duo setting with drummer Matt Glattback and the group has now expanded to a trio with the addition of Isaac Bell on electric bass.
Hodgkins began at the keyboard, adopting a piano sound on the song “The Unknown”, the performance mixing rock and pop elements with jazz with Hodgkins delivering the lyrics before a closing passage featuring some impressive instrumental interplay between keyboard and drums. Hodgkins and Glattback have developed an impressive rapport and this was apparent throughout the trio’s set.
Similar virtues distinguished “Looking Down”, another convincing mix of pop/rock and jazz sensibilities with the talented Hodgkins featuring as a piano soloist.
The two opening songs had been energetic affairs and the trio slowed things down a little with “Lay With Me Here Tonight” and the more sombre “Black Sheep”.
The last song featuring Hodgkins at the piano was “Cling To My Hair” a song that has been recorded and videoed and will hopefully appear on Youtube at some point. It was a song that highlighted Hodgkins’ impressive vocal range as well as his abilities as a pianist.
Hodgkins moved to guitar for the blues tinged “Same Old Story” before the trio signed off with “Leave With You”, which was delivered in more of an indie rock style.
It wasn’t easy to discern much of the lyrical content, particularly during the keyboard led sections, but there was still much to enjoy here. Hodgkins is a talented singer and songwriter, a highly accomplished pianist and a more than adequate guitarist. His rapport with Glattback was impressive throughout, with Bell rounding out the trio sound in undemonstrative fashion. As a recent addition one sensed that he was still feeling his way into the group.
Overall there was much to enjoy here and the trio, and particularly Hodgkins, exhibit considerable potential. I believe they also opened for Project PH so Fuller has clearly been impressed with them. They weren’t particularly well served by the sound mix but fortunately the sound quality was to improve immensely for the Boom! quartet’s performance, with Hodgkins, Glattback and Bell staying on to watch the more seasoned professionals at work.
Castelli and Boom! quickly hit their stride with Castelli and Wickham establishing an infectious funk groove that powered the fluent and powerful solos of LoCastro and Marconi. It was the first time that I had seen either of these Italian born musicians perform live and I was hugely impressed with both of them. LoCastro made astute use of a wide variety of guitar effects while Marconi produced an astonishing variety of sounds from his Roland keyboard – acoustic and electric piano, organ and a whole panoply of synth sounds. I’d heard Wickham on record as a member of the Floating Circles Quartet led by clarinettist Alex Pearson and also as a member of saxophonist Alex Western-King’s quartet. On those recordings he had played double bass but he was to prove just as effective on electric five string. This opening tune with its funky grooves and taut riffing turned out to be one of LoCastro’s , a tribute to the great guitarist John Scofield simply titled “Field”.
Next up was “Vamos”, a Castelli composition from the “Party at One World Plaza” album. This combined Latin rhythms with the sounds of acoustic piano and heavy, rock influenced guitar as Marconi and LoCastro entered into a series of scintillating keyboard and guitar exchanges. The piece concluded with a rousing drum feature from Castelli as the leader really began to flex his muscles.
LoCastro’s “Funkeltone” lived up to its title with some seriously filthy funk grooves allied to some fiery soloing from Marconi on electric piano and the composer on guitar, the latter again making good use of his battery of effects. Once more the piece concluded with a feature for Castelli, this time in dialogue with Wickham at the bass.
Castelli was keen to praise all of his bandmates but emphasised the special bond between drummer and bassist, something he has obviously found with Wickham.
Castelli is an exuberant character who presents his shows with an obvious enthusiasm. “Can drummers be quiet?” he asked the audience, “especially if they’re American – and Italian?”. All this was by way of introducing the ballad “For The Fallen”, a beautiful piece from the “One World Plaza” album. More seriously Castelli suggested that before the band started playing the music that the audience members should pause for a few moments of silent reflection for those they had lost, and not necessarily in war and battle. I thought of my late father (1925-2014), whose birthday was March 2nd, the same date as this gig, and also of Wayne Shorter, whose passing had been announced earlier in the day.
The performance saw Castelli taking up the brushes for the first time as Wickham played a liquidly melodic electric bass solo underpinned by Marconi’s gently rippling piano arpeggios, almost sounding celeste like at times. The keyboard player then delivered a thoughtful electric piano solo with LoCastro exhibiting similar qualities on guitar. The audience were spellbound throughout, drummers can do quiet and this beautiful piece was a set highlight, as it is on the recording.
Also from the “World Plaza” album “Your Unlucky Number” saw Castelli and Wickham bringing the groove back as LoCastro and Marconi delivered fiery solos on guitar and organ respectively. Marconi is an absolute monster of a player and the way in which he and LoCastro traded solos reminded me of Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore in prime time Deep Purple. It turns out that Marconi is a recent addition to the Castelli band, although he and LoCastro have been working together for years. The way in which they bounced ideas off each other in a spirit of friendly competition represented an invigorating experience for both the band and the audience.
Castelli’s drums introduced LoCastro’s epic composition “Fly High”, which began in atmospheric fashion with LoCastro adopting an evocative Frisell like twang, this underscored by Marconi’s spacey keyboard soundwashes. The title became more and more appropriate during the composer’s solo as LoCastro’s guitar soared into the musical stratosphere. Wickham’s bass solo then explored appropriately high registers , with Marconi following on electric piano and finally Castelli at the kit. We were all left feeling as if we had been taken on an epic flight.
From “World Plaza” the quirky “Floatin’” saw Castelli taking up the compositional reins once more, ushering the piece in at the drums prior to solos from Wickham on bass, Marconi on organ and LoCastro on guitar. I was thoroughly absorbed in the music at this juncture and had stopped making detailed notes. Sometimes less is more.
The set concluded with LoCastro’s “Week 48”, introduced by Castelli at the drums and with the composer stating the hooky theme on guitar. Marconi’s solo combined funky, clavinet like electric piano sounds with dirty sounding synth. He was followed by LoCastro’s powerful guitar solo, again making use of his arsenal of effects. Castelli’s volcanic drum solo was rapturously received, with the leader milking the applause before leading the band back into the song.
But it wasn’t quite over yet. When Castelli had introduced “For The Fallen” I was a little surprised that he hadn’t mentioned Wayne Shorter. It was now that he paid heartfelt tribute, declaring that “a shamen has left us”. By way of homage the quartet played a suitably reverential arrangement of “Footprints”, arguably Shorter’s most famous composition. It was unusual to hear the piece played by an electric group but with Marconi and LoCastro making judicious use of their various effects this version was luminously beautiful and a fitting tribute to a great musician, composer and improviser. Shorter’s passing was a moment in jazz history that had to be marked, and it was done so fittingly and beautifully.
I’d waited a long time for this gig and I wasn’t disappointed. Although Robert and I have remained in contact since 2010 my attempts to see him in live performance again have been continually frustrated – until now. In 2021 he was scheduled to present a drum clinic and performance in Redditch, but that got pulled. I opted for the Festival of Improvised Music in Stourbridge instead, so all was not lost.
But it was great to catch up with the latest edition of the Boom! Quartet at last and to meet up again with Robert after all these years. Thanks too to Francesco for providing me with a set list and to Dave Fuller for allowing me to cover the event.
Thanks also to Dave for gifting me one of the splendid T-shirts that Music Spoken Here have produced in support of the series. There is a range of three and they are seriously cool, so I purchased one of the others. They are only a tenner so do check them out at https://www.facebook.com/MusicSpokenHere
The remaining dates in the Music Spoken Here series are;
THURSDAY, 30 MARCH 2023 AT 20:00
Music Spoken Here presents Laimu
The Marrs Bar
Seductive, soulful vocals over fresh, jazzy grooves along the lines of Greentea Peng, Cleo Sol and Hiatus Kaiyote
Bristol 6-piece LAIMU meld a unique brand of jazz and contemporary soul, channelling wide spanning influences to deliver heavy grooves, dusty horn lines and laid back hip-hop influenced beats led by raw and heartfelt vocals.
Their début EP ‘CIRCLES’ has received amazing radio support across BBC 6 Music, BBC Radio 1Xtra, Jazz FM (YolanDa Brown’s Tune Of The Week) and Rinse FM via Jyoty. Previous releases have also been play-listed on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM.
Laimu have also gained a great reputation in the live circuit, supporting artists such as The Hot 8 Brass Band and No Go Stop, as well as performing at UK festivals such as Farmfest, El Dorado, Jazz Stroud, Shindig and Wonder Fields.
Laimu are LUCY SPARKS (vocals), MATT HILL (trumpet), AUSTIN SHEPHERD (guitar), LAURENCE FAZAKERLEY-BUGLASS (keys), ANDY VINCENT (bass) and PETE CATADA (drums).
THURSDAY, 27 APRIL 2023 AT 21:00
Music Spoken Here presents Tristan Banks
The Marrs Bar
Brazilian vibes delivered with relentless energy and passion from drummer Tristan Banks
Drummer/composer TRISTAN BANKS draws on over 30 years of experience as a sideman for many grammy award winning and multi-platinum selling artists (Roy Ayers, Steve Winwood, Dave Valentin, David Gilmour, Beverley Knight, Hexagonal, Peter King, Lewis Taylor, Guy Barker, Marcos Valle, Liane Carroll, Mike Lindup, Terry Callier, Da Lata, Jim Mullen, Carleen Anderson and Mayra Andrade).
Mixing influences from jazz, latin and fusion, Banks’ début album View From Above is a unique combination of high-octane virtuosic performance and sublimely melodic composition. Banks unifies his long standing musical friends PAUL BOOTH on sax / flute (Steve Winwood, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Allman Brothers Band, Bonnie Raitt, Chaka Khan, Jamiroquai, Gregory Porter, Eddie Henderson, Clarence Penn and Ingrid Jensen), Latin-jazz pianist JOHN CRAWFORD (Airto Moreira, Giovanni Hidalgo, Snowboy, Roberto Pla) and DAVIDE MANTOVANI on bass (Lisa Stansfield, Tony Allen, Zoe Rahman, Jim Mullen, Andy Sheppard, Jason Rebello, Alex Wilson, Jean Toussaint and a whole heap of world-music collaborations including Baaba Maal, Seckou Keita, Natacha Atlas, Mulatu Astatke, Nana Vasconcelos, Kuljit Bahmra, Justin Adams, Cheick Lô, Baseckou Kouyate, Cheo Feliciano, Herman Olivera, Aster Aweke, Antonio Forcione).
THURSDAY, 25 MAY 2023 FROM 20:00-23:00
Music Spoken Here presents Hoop
The Marrs Bar
Brassy, funky, groovy jazz juice for your soul from a 7-piece collaboration oozing talent with every beat!
Saxophonist, composer and producer PAUL BOOTH (Steely Dan, Carlos Santana, Van Morrison, Incognito, Jamiroquai, Gregory Porter, Chaka Khan) embarked on the project ‘Secret Sessions’ as an outlet for new music that is created, played and ultimately recorded by grouping like-minded artists and friends together. It works like this… Paul carefully selects highly talented musicians who turn up to the recording studio, only knowing the instrumentation of the music but not knowing who they will be playing with. The result is a dynamic cocktail of spontaneous, exciting and highly rewarding music.
Hoop emerged from the second of these sessions in 2019 with an incredible line-up! In the ‘engine room’ we have IAN THOMAS (Seal, Steve Winwood, Incognito, Georgie Fame, Sting, Amy Winehouse, Mark Knopfler, Jim Mullen, ) on drums and LAURENCE COTTLE (Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Seal, Jason Rebello, Jim Mullen, James Taylor Quartet) on bass.
The horn section puts Booth alongside TOM WALSH (The BBC Big Band, The Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, NYJO and lead trumpet in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, WDR Big Band & Vince Mendoza) on trumpet and NICHOL THOMAS (Incognito, Tina Turner, Paloma Faith, Omar, Beverly Knight, Brand New Heavies, Jamie Callum) on trombone.
CHRIS ALLARD (Tim Garland, John Helliwell, Dave O’Higgins, Dame Cleo Laine, Sir John Dankworth, Carleen Anderson, Claire Martin, Jamie Cullum) on guitar and ROSS STANLEY (Jim Mullen Organ Trio, Will Vinson, Dennis Rollins, Guy Barker, Michael Janisch, Liane Carroll, Stan Sulzmann, Clark Tracey) on keys rounds out this incredible band.
The Marr’s Bar
12 Pierpoint Street
Robert Castelli and Boom! Have a number of other of UK dates during March and April;
Robert Castelli & BOOM! UK
Sunday, March 5, 2023
Pizza Express Soho, London
Bruno D’Ambra-Keys, Comp
Robert Castelli & Boom UK
Thursday, April 6, 2023
Toulouse Lautrec, London
Robert Castelli & BOOM! UK
Friday, April 7, 2023
Oliver’s Jazz Bar, London
Robert Castelli & BOOM! UK
Saturday, April 8, 2023
The Verdict, Brighton
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