by Ian Mann
August 16, 2021
An excellent evening of music making with six highly talented young jazz musicians playing classic hard bop material with skill and conviction.
Rory Ingham Sextet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/08/2021
Rory Ingham – trombone, Helena Kay – tenor sax, Sean Gibbs – trumpet
Fergus McCreadie – keyboard, Conor Chaplin – double bass, Luke Tomlinson – drums
This performance represented Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s second event of the 2021/22 season and followed a visit by another trombonist, Annie Whitehead, and her quartet in July. SJN had even managed to squeeze in a couple of limited capacity events in the Autumn of 2020 during the brief respite between lockdowns.
Personally this was my first visit to The Hive since January 2020 and the visit of saxophonist Xhosa Cole. It felt good to be back among friends, and even with a socially distanced audience the atmosphere was excellent with the event an official sell out, the audience of 55 representing exactly half The Hive’s official capacity.
Rory Ingham is something of a favourite among Shropshire jazz audiences, having first visited The Hive as a member of the group Jam Experiment in June 2017. Following the mutation of Jam Experiment into Bonsai, following the departure of saxophonist Alexander Bone and the addition of Ingham’s violinist / vocalist brother Dominic, the re-named group then visited the sadly now defunct Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in nearby Oswestry in September 2019.
Meanwhile Rory Ingham led his own quintet, a group that featured his mother, saxophonist Julia Mills, at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival. He has also appeared frequently in the bands of others, notably the eleven piece Elftet led by Bonsai drummer /vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield. As a section player he has appeared in large ensembles such as the Mike Gibbs Big Band and the Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra.
As Ingham’s CV suggests he is a highly versatile musician, active in the realms of contemporary jazz but also with a thorough appreciation of the history of the music. Whereas his quintet gig at Brecon had placed the emphasis on his own writing, including material from the Bonsai repertoire, tonight’s sextet show offered something different. Here were six young, contemporary jazz musicians paying homage to the masters that inspired them, notably the late American drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, co-founder and long time leader of The Jazz Messengers, the small group that ran for some thirty five years and was effectively the ‘finishing school’ for multiple generations of Afro-American instrumentalists / composers, many of whom went on to lead their own groups, often becoming jazz superstars in the process.
The roll call of ex Messengers in undeniably impressive, including co-founder and pianist Horace Silver plus trumpeters Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Branford Marsalis, Donald Harrison and Jean Toussaint, pianists Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton, bassists Doug Watkins, Reggie Workman and Jymie Merritt and, of course, trombonist Curtis Fuller.
For this evening’s two sets Ingham and the sextet chose to focus on the compositions of just two of the names from that illustrious list, Freddie Hubbard and the incomparable Wayne Shorter. This meant the omission of arguably the two best known tunes in the Messengers canon, Timmons’ “Moanin’” and Golson’s “Blues March”, both superb and memorable pieces, but both also high up there on the ‘overly familiar meter’.
By selecting a programme of lesser known, but by no means obscure, pieces Ingham and the group were able to offer plenty of surprises while comparing and contrasting the very different writing styles of Hubbard and Shorter. Hubbard’s approach, with its focus on melody and swing, eventually led to a commercially successful solo career with the CTI label in the 1970s. Meanwhile Shorter’s more academic approach placed a greater emphasis on complexity and angularity, but both musicians have written some brilliant tunes, compositions that have become modern day standards.
Tonight’s selection focussed on tunes that Hubbard and Shorter wrote specifically for Blakey and the Messengers and all were brilliantly played by a young sextet that differed slightly from the advertised line up with Fergus McCreadie coming in for Tom Cawley on piano and Sean Gibbs replacing Rueben Fowler on trumpet. However these were far from being unfamiliar ‘deps’; despite being a Yorkshireman Ingham had played in the Scottish National Youth Jazz Orchestra with both McCreadie and Gibbs, plus saxophonist Helena Kay. He also studied at the Royal Academy of Music with drummer Luke Tomlinson. This was a sextet who knew each other’s playing well, something that was reflected in a swinging and exciting performance based upon the hard bop message of Blakey and his band. The fact that Kay once took saxophone lessons from ex-Messenger Jean Toussaint added an extra layer of authenticity.
In the spirit of their heroes the sextet took to the stage suitably suited and booted, having effected a quick change following their pre gig meal in Shrewsbury. “We haven’t played this material for eighteen months” confessed Ingham, “I was worried whether the suits were still going to fit after lockdown!”.
The first tune proved to be Hubbard’s composition “Thermo”, which was distinguished by its razor sharp unison passages from the three horns and the fluent but powerful soloing of Kay on tenor and Gibbs on trumpet. Ingham chose not to feature himself on this first number but did allocate space for McCreadie, playing a Nord Stage electric keyboard. As Hamish Kirkpatrick of SJN pointed out we were lucky to have an award winning pianist in our midst and during the course of the evening McCreadie didn’t disappoint as he delivered a series of fiendishly inventive keyboard solos. The pianist is best known for leading his own folk influenced trio so it was interesting to witness his playing in a more straight ahead jazz context. Meanwhile McCreadie himself seemed to relish the opportunity.
The first in a series of Shorter tunes was the saxophonist’s “Hammerhead”, with Ingham taking the first solo, his sound on the trombone big and brassy and infused with blues inflections. Kay followed on tenor, skilfully taking Shorter’s role before the impressive Gibbs weighed in on trumpet. McCreadie then took up the baton at the keyboard before handing over to Chaplin for a hugely impressive double bass solo. Meanwhile Tomlinson gave an authentically Blakey-esque performance, spurring on his colleagues, ‘dropping bombs’ and entering into a series of fiery exchanges with Gibbs’ trumpet.
Ingham surmised that the title of Shorter’s tune “Ping Pong” was a reference to its rapid tempo, although it could equally well refer to the complexities of its somewhat staccato theme. Chaplin led off the solos at the bass, followed by the leader on trombone and Gibbs on trumpet, at one point with the group pared down to a trio of trumpet, bass and drums. McCreadie’s piano solo was then accompanied by Chaplin’s propulsive bass lines and Tomlinson’s sizzling, Blakey-esque ride cymbal. Finally the drummer himself rounded things off with a dynamic percussive feature.
The largely Shorter themed first set continued with Wayne’s “One For Albert”, presumably a dedication to Albert Ayler. This featured a slightly softer sound and was ushered in by Chaplin at the bass, with subsequent solos coming from McCreadie on piano and Kay on tenor, with a later series of exchanges between Gibbs on trumpet and Ingham on trombone. Gibbs is a bandleader in his own right and has recently released his début album “When Can I see You Again?”, a quintet recording, on the Ubuntu Music record label. I intend to take a look at this release in the near future.
The first half concluded with a final Shorter tune, “One By One”, which saw the sextet upping the energy levels once more with exceptional solos from Ingham, Kay, Gibbs, McCreadie and Chaplin.
The second set was shorter in length placed the emphasis more firmly on the writing of Hubbard. Nevertheless it began with the Wayne Shorter tune “Miyako” with Ingham soloing in ‘trombone trio’ format, accompanied by Chaplin’s rapid bass walk and Tomlinson’s whip-smart drumming.
Next followed a sequence of Hubbard tunes, commencing with the attractive melodic theme of “Crisis”, ushered in by Chaplin’s bass motif and later featuring the skilled interplay of the three horns. Solos came from McCreadie on piano, Ingham on trombone and Kay on tenor, with Gibbs’s trumpet featuring towards the close. Tenor saxophonist Kay is also a bandleader and released an excellent début album, “Moon Palace”, in 2018, recorded by her KIM Trio featuring bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer David Ingamells.
Chaplin also introduced the Hubbard composition “The Core”, which incorporated more thrilling interplay between the horns plus more expansive solo from Kay on tenor, Gibbs on trumpet and Ingham on trombone, the leader producing a remarkable range of sounds from his instrument, but without ever straying into the realm of extended technique. The consistently impressive McCreadie was also to feature extensively at the keyboard.
Ingham had announced “The Core” as the last number, but following a few words from SJN’s Mike Wright the sextet were easily tempted back to play a deserved encore before undertaking the long drive back to London. This proved to be a final Hubbard composition, “Down Under”, which acted as the springboard for features from all six members of the band, the soloing order being Kay, Ingham, Gibbs, McCreadie, Chaplin, Tomlinson.
Thus ended an excellent evening of music making with six highly talented young jazz musicians playing classic hard bop material with skill and conviction. The quality of the music, allied to Ingham’s affable presenting style, peppered with old Ronnie Scott jokes, quickly endeared them to an audience as hungry to hear live music as the musicians were to play it. All in all a winning combination.
My thanks to Rory, Fergus and Conor for speaking with me before embarking on the long journeys to their respective homes.
Having made my return to The Hive I now fully intend to cover the forthcoming events in the SJN series commencing with;
September 11th 2021 – Andrea Vicari Band feat. Yazz Ahmed
October 9th 2021 – Alex Hitchcock Quartet feat. Deschanel Gordon
Tickets from; http://www.hiveonline.org.uk
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