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Sam Leak’s Looking Glass

Sam Leak’s Looking Glass, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 18/04/2024.

by Ian Mann

April 22, 2024


"Looking Glass brought energy, skill & a sense of genuine enthusiasm to their performances of a series of fusion classics". Ian Mann & guest contributor Dave Fuller enjoy the music of this new quartet

Sam Leak’s Looking Glass, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 18/04/2024.

Sam Leak – keyboards, Nick Linnik – guitar, Flo Moore – electric bass, Laurie Lowe – drums

Taking its name from a composition by the late, great guitarist and composer Allan Holdsworth Looking Glass is a new, London based quartet led by keyboard player Sam Leak. The advance publicity for this event promised that the band would perform fusion classics from the likes of Holdsworth, John McLaughlin and Weather Report and the music of all of these was represented over the course of two energetic and highly enjoyable sets that also included material by Chick Corea, John Scofield, and, rather less predictably, Vijay Iyer.

Although no original material was performed this evening Leak is himself a skilled composer as he demonstrated several years ago with his acoustic quartet Aquarium. Led by Leak on acoustic piano the quartet also featured the talents of James Allsopp (reeds), Calum Gourlay ( double bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums). The band released two acclaimed albums, “Aquarium” (2011) and “Places” (2013). Both are favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann and I also reported on a live appearance by the band at the 2011 Brecon Jazz Festival.

In 2014 Leak led his own Big Band at an EFG London Jazz Festival event at the Spice of Life venue in Soho. The sixteen piece ensemble, conducted by Kim Macari and with Leak himself on piano, performed a new, untitled suite of music written by Leak specifically for the Festival. The performance also included arrangements of material by composers such as Duke Ellington, Kenny Wheeler and Julian Arguelles. The event was a triumph and the performance is reviewed elsewhere on this site as part of my Festival coverage. Sadly I don’t think that the music was ever committed to disc, which is a shame.

Leak has also featured on these pages as a member of a quintet co-led by saxophonist Duncan Eagles and trumpeter Mark Perry and also of Locus, a sextet co-led by trumpeter Macari and alto saxophonist Leah Gough-Cooper . He has also recorded with alto saxophonist Samuel Eagles, brother of Duncan.

Others with whom Leak has recorded include fellow pianist Dan Tepfer, saxophonist Chris Rand and vocalists Paua Rae Gibson and Louise Gibbs.

In 2015 Leak ‘depped’ admirably on piano with the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet led by  tenor saxophonist Matt Anderson at a very well attended performance at The Hive in Shrewsbury.

More recently I have seen two shows featuring Leak leading a trio with Simon Read on bass and first Dave Storey and then Will Glaser on drums. These EFGLJF performances took place at The Vortex and at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho and saw the trio paying homage to the compositions of leading British jazz pianists, with Leak himself represented alongside Kit Downes and Gwilym Simcock and extending the remit to include pieces by US pianist Keith Jarrett and Danish born bassist Jasper Hoiby (of Phronesis fame).

Leak’s profile may be less prominent than in the Aquarium days but he is still a busy presence on the UK jazz scene, variously playing piano, organ and electric keyboards.

This evening’s event represented Leak’s second visit to the Marr’s Bar following his appearance as a member of guitarist Francesco Lo Castro’s quartet in May 2023, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site and another to have featured Leak specialising on electric keyboards. Tonight was also a return visit for guitarist Nick Linnik and drummer Laurie Lowe, both of whom had played here with bassist Yolanda Charles’ Project PH back in February 2022. For Flo Moore, specialising on five string electric bass, it was a Marr’s Bar debut, making her the 98th different musician thus far to feature in the Music Spoken Here series. The century will be reached at the next MSH gig when alto saxophonist Guido Spannochi visits with his quartet on May 2nd 2024.

As the show began the quartet immediately determined to deliver on their promise as they opened up with their ‘signature’ tune, the Allan Holdsworth composition “Looking Glass”. This was introduced by Lowe at the drums and saw Leak coaxing synthesiser sounds from his rack of Roland keyboards. Guitarist Linnik was the only one of these performers that I hadn’t seen before and he immediately impressed with a spiralling solo that sounded suitably Holdsworth like. Leak eventually took over at the keyboards, generating a vintage analogue synth sound that, for me, evoked memories of the ‘Canterbury Scene’ bands – after all Holdsworth did enjoy a brief tenure with Soft Machine back in the 1970s. This attention grabbing opener was climaxed by a powerful drum feature from the dynamic Laurie Lowe.

From the music of one great British guitarist to that of another, and the quartet’s version of the John McLaughlin composition “New York On My Mind”. This featured Leak deploying an organ sound as he underpinned a sustain heavy guitar solo from the impressive Linnik. The leader then switched to a synthesiser sound for his own solo as the quartet continued to play with both skill and energy.

An unexpected choice was “Song For Midwood”, written by the American pianist and composer Vijay Iyer. This contrasted an acoustic piano sound with pounding rhythms as the group temporarily moved into piano trio mode with Leak soloing feverishly and at length, underscored by Moore’s nimble bass lines and Lowe’s dynamic drumming. This was followed by a switch into ‘power trio’ territory as Leak sat back and Linnik took over on guitar.

A return to the Holdsworth repertoire with “Proto-cosmos” and its dazzling opening passages featuring the unison lines of keyboards, guitar and bass as Lowe flailed around his kit. This typically complex piece was also notable for Moore’s first solo of the night, her playing highly dexterous and making effective use of her instrument’s upper registers. Linnik’s solo again evoked memories of Holdsworth himself while Leak again adopted a synth sound for his own solo. Once again the performance was crowned by an explosive Lowe drum feature.

Our first taste of Weather Report saw us savouring two musical morsels for the price of one as Joe Zawinul’s “In A Silent Way” was segued with the same composer’s “Waterfall”, the latter piece sourced from Weather Report’s eponymous debut from 1971. Originally written for the Miles Davis album of the same name “In A Silent Way” began as a solo performance from Leak, his densely layered keyboards sounding quasi-orchestral. Lowe’s deft cymbal work then offered further embellishment as the leader now adopted an electric piano sound, with Moore’s melodic bass also being added to the equation. As one tune segued into the other Moore introduced a subtle funk groove as Linnik’s guitar began to soar.

A lengthy first set concluded with “Three Views Of A Secret”, a Jaco Pastorius composition that was recorded both by Weather Report and by Pastorius as a solo artist. This proved to be something of a showcase for Leak, whose playing embraced both organ and synth sounds, the latter featuring prominently during the course of his solo.

Set two opened with the tight, accessible grooves of John Scofield’s “Igotthepicture”, exactly the right choice to get the audience back in the mood and with fiery solo coming from Linnik on guitar and Leak on synth.

There was a change of pace with a short but sweet rendition of “Love is Green”, a Narada Michael Walden that appears on the 1976 Jeff Beck album “Wired”. A quiet intro featuring guitar, piano and bass led to an atmospheric, sustain heavy solo from Linnik, with Lowe adding the sound of brushed drums.

Leak had promised us “plenty of Weather Report” in the second half and he and the band didn’t disappoint. An enthusiastic crowd member requested “Havona”, a Pastorius composition from the classic 1976 Weather Report album “Heavy Weather”. The leader’s “brass sound on keys” and Moore’s percolating bass lines augmented Linnik’s soaring guitar solo before Leak switched to an acoustic piano sound for his own solo. A second high powered solo from Linnik was followed by a suitably Jaco-esque bass feature from the excellent Flo Moore, which again saw her exploring her instrument’s upper registers. A series of piano and guitar exchanges was followed by a drum feature from the irrepressible Lowe on this real crowd pleaser of a number.

Looking Glass followed this up with another Pastorius composition, “(Used to be a) Cha Cha” from the bassist’s 1976 solo recording “Jaco Pastorius”. Introduced by Moore at the bass this saw Leak adopting an electric piano sound for his solo and Linnik following with another fleet fingered guitar excursion. Moore was then featured more extensively on electric bass, a true celebration of Jaco’s legacy.

The final Holdsworth item of the night was the curiously titled “Non-Brewed Condiment”, which was introduced by a virtuoso solo drum feature from Lowe, this setting the tone for similarly high octane solos from Linnik on guitar and Leak on keyboards,  the latter primarily deploying a synthesiser sound.

The crowd was smaller than for the appearance by saxophonist Iain Ballamy’s IBQT quartet a couple of weeks ago but there was certainly no lack of enthusiasm and appreciation as the audience roared their approval for the playing of Leak and his colleagues.

The inevitable encore was a performance of the Chick Corea composition “Matrix”, played in the style of the electric incarnation of Return To Forever. Leak has played several shows paying homage to Corea and his legacy, so it came as no surprise to hear one of Chick’s tunes tonight. The leader favoured an electric piano sound for his solo and he was followed by Linnik on guitar and Moore at the bass.

The audience loved these performances of some genuine fusion classics as Looking Glass brought energy, skill and a sense of genuine enthusiasm to their chosen material. This was frequently tricky and complex music that demanded advanced sight reading skills and some pieces required veritable reams of manuscript. Nevertheless the band was able retain a sense of spontaneity and the stage was set up with the players facing each other, enabling them to respond to visual cues. For the audience members this meant that Linnik was often side on to the crowd, making it difficult for spectators to see the actual fretboard, but this was a very minor complaint in the context of an excellent all round band performance. Leak’s on stage announcements were succinct and informative, always giving full credit to the pieces that the band had chosen to perform. Whether Leak will choose to compose for the ensemble himself remains to be decided, but you won’t see many ‘covers bands’ that are as classy or technically accomplished as Looking Glass.

My mate Jim, a first timer at a Music Spoken Here event, was delighted by what he saw and heard and has been delving into the back catalogues of some of the artists featured. A fan of Soft Machine, (he saw them recently at the Robin2 in Bilston) he was first attracted to tonight’s gig by the promise of the Holdsworth material, but found himself discovering much more music that was new to him, even though it was first recorded years ago. It’s never too late to catch up and this once maligned style of music has been enjoying something of a revival in the 21st century as it gets re-assessed. Jim certainly liked it and I’m hopeful that he might become a Music Spoken Here regular in the future. He’s even come up with a potential slogan for the next batch of MSH T-Shirts – “Dedicated Follower of Fusion”. Nice one Jim, although I’ve heard that even now you can still get arrested by the Jazz Police for displaying the ‘F’ word in public!


Dave Fuller of Music Spoken Here has written his own review of this event for publication in SLAP (Supporting Local Artists and Performers) Magazine, Worcester’s local music and listings outlet. With Dave’s kind permission it is reproduced below;

Looking Glass Smashed It at The Marr’s Bar!
Music Spoken Here presents Sam Leak’s Looking Glass
The Marr’s Bar, Worcester
Thursday 18th April 2024

Wow! We’ve had so many incredible performances from exceptional artists on the Music Spoken Here program at The Marr’s Bar, but I reckon Thursday’s show from Sam Leak’s Looking Glass was my favourite gig of them all! I was delighted to hear so many brilliant tunes from past fusion masters played live for the first time in my life!

The band, named after the Allan Holdsworth tune that they opened the show with, had the astonishingly brilliant Nick Linnik on guitar and the relentless, rhythmic ruminations of Laurie Lowe on drums, both of whom demonstrated their fusion prowess together with Yolanda Charles’ Project PH in February last year. Electric bass duties in Looking Glass are performed magnificently and meticulously by another female bassist from the London scene, Flo Moore.

Next up was ‘New York on my Mind’, one of my favourite John McLaughlin tunes from the “Electric Guitarist” album (incidentally, released 4 years prior to his “Music Spoken Here” album). Linnik seemingly effortlessly stepped up to the task of the guitar maestro himself, with Lowe driving through the various crescendos in the piece with abundant cymbal splashes and crashes adding perfect texture to Linnik’s soaring guitar.

“Song for Midwood” by the American composer and pianist Vijay Iyer provided some respite, featuring Leak, adopting an acoustic piano voice from his keyboard and Linnik’s guitar replacing Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto sax on the original recording.

The band then launched into another Holdsworth masterpiece, “Proto-Cosmos” providing an opportunity for Moore to bust out her blisteringly bubbly bass chops, transitioning to another frenzy of guitar and drums from Linnik and Lowe.

We were then treated to three consecutive Weather Report tunes. Leak’s pensive, spatial synth strings/brass introduction drifted into the melodic theme of “In A Silent Way”, a Zawinul composition more commonly known from the Miles Davis 1969 recording (my vinyl copy of which I managed to replace a couple of years ago with the help of one of our regulars, Jason Clark, of Desirable Vinyl in Evesham). The piece seamlessly transitioned to “Waterfall”, replicating the medley recorded live on the 1978 “Mr Gone” album.

This was followed by “Three Views of a Secret”, from the 1980 Night Passage album, again featuring Leak’s adept emulation of Zawinul’s synth sound and style. The piece brought the deeply satisfying first set to a close.

After a well-earned break, the band returned to the stage opening with John Scofield’s “Igetthepicture”, featuring Linnik’s jubilantly fluid guitar, followed by a brilliant synth solo from Leak with expertly judicious use of the pitch bend wheel and Flo getting funky with some slap-bass for good measure.

This was followed by the shortest piece of the evening, Jeff Beck’s “Love Is Green” from the 1976 “Wired” album, coming in just under two and a half minutes - a rare occurrence outside the world of radio pop!

When Leak announced in the first set that they were ‘about to play a load’ of Weather Report, one of our regulars hoped for “Havona”, which was kept for the second set. This Jaco Pastorius composition from the 1977 “Heavy Weather” album gave Moore another opportunity to shine as she breezed through the sixteenth-note runs and took the solo like a champ, with Lowe getting excited on the kit for a splendid ending.

Another Pastorius composition, “(Used To Be A) Cha Cha”, from his debut eponymous album of the previous year, followed. This featured Leak, this time with a Rhodes electric piano sound emanating from the expertly-commanded keyboard and another bright and bubbling Jaco-esque solo from Moore.

The final Holdsworth piece in the set was “Non-Brewed Condiment”, which was introduced by an astonishing two-and-a-half-minute drum solo from Lowe before Linnik joined in with another blistering feature, playing as if he had to use up a lifetime of notes before the evening ended! The spotlight then turned to Leak, as he bashed out another, equally virtuosic squizzle-fest on the keys.

The evening ended with an encore of the Return to Forever arrangement of Chick Corea’s “Matrix”, again Leak demonstrating why Jazz FM’s Helen Mayhew regards him as “One of the brightest stars in the Jazz piano galaxy”.

This really was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of exceptional music played by a band described by BBC Radio 2’s Jamie Callum as “Heavyweights of the British Jazz Scene”. They played some of my favourite tunes that I’d only ever heard on record before, from bands that represent the top musicians of the genre in the 1970s. You can’t play this stuff without thousands of hours of work and dedication. We were all very privileged, and I am incredibly grateful to have experienced such excellence in Worcester.

Music Spoken Here present the very best from the UK jazz, funk &soul scene every other Thursday at The Marr’s Bar, Worcester. Head over to the website for more info.




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