by Ian Mann
April 14, 2021
A very enjoyable evening of straight-ahead jazz featuring a well chosen selection of material .I was impressed by Ferris’ considerable facility on a range of instruments.
Sue Ferris Quartet, Livestream from The Jazz Café, The Black Swan, Newcastle Arts Centre,
Newcastle Upon Tyne, 13/04/2021
Sue Ferris – tenor, alto & baritone saxophones, flute, Stu Collingwood – piano,
Neil Harland – double bass, Rob Walker – drums
Tonight’s performance was the first in a series of Jazz Café livestream events to be broadcast direct from the Black Swan, the music, dance and performance venue situated in the basement of Newcastle Arts Centre.
This inaugural performance was hosted by the award winning vocalist and songwriter Zoe Gilby and featured the playing of a quartet led by saxophonist and flautist Sue Ferris. I have to admit to being previously unfamiliar with the work of Ferris, or that of any of her colleagues, but the members of the quartet have been described as being “all well seasoned musicians from the North East”.
Further research proves that Ferris is a capable and versatile multi-reeds player, adept on a range of saxophones, plus flute. A popular presence on the North East jazz scene she leads her own groups ranging from duo through to quintet and is also an acclaimed educator.
In addition to the players in tonight’s line up Ferris has also performed with many other leading musicians on the vibrant North East jazz scene, among them guitarists Giles Strong, Roly Veitch and James Birkett, bassist Mick Shoulder, pianist Ben Lawrence and trumpeters Michael Lamb and Pete Tanton. She has performed with the Voice Of The North contemporary jazz orchestra and has also appeared with the singer songwriter Lee Maddison.
Tonight’s performance found Ferris leading her quartet in a programme of jazz and bebop standards over the course of a “jazzy hour”, featuring tunes from such celebrated jazz composers as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Thelonious Monk, Freddie Hubbard and Cole Porter. There were also tributes to two recently departed giants of the music, Chick Corea and Roy Hargrove.
The quartet kicked off the evening with Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me”, with Ferris stating the theme on tenor before stretching out with her first solo of the evening. Her tone on the tenor was powerful and full bodied, and she was followed by Collingwood at the piano and Harland on double bass.
Ferris remained on tenor for Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”, stating the theme before handing over to Collingwood for the opening solo. The pianist deployed a Roland RD – 300SX keyboard on an acoustic piano setting, and his playing here was suitably Monk-ish. Ferris followed on tenor, her sound still robust and powerful as she began “digging in”. The performance also included features for bassist Harland and drummer Walker, the latter a subtly swinging presence throughout the course of the evening.
Ferris explained that as this was her first gig of the year she had decided to bring along her full armoury of instruments. This marked a switch to flute for the late trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Swing”. Together with his “Little Sunflower” this is a tune that amply demonstrates Hubbard’s innate melodic gift and his composition was well served by Ferris’ fluency on the flute and by Collingwood’s lyrical piano solo. Harland, who was to feature prominently throughout the evening, also added a melodic double bass solo.
Ferris continued on flute for a performance of Chick Corea’s “Friends”, chosen as a tribute to the late keyboard player and composer who died earlier in 2021. The piece is the title track of Corea’s 1978 album, recorded in the company of Joe Farrell (reeds), Eddie Gomez (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums), the one with the notorious Smurfs cover design. The tune itself is one of Corea’s best, busy and quirky, with Ferris here fulfilling the Farrell role on flute, floating airily above the Latin-esque patter of Walker’s hand drumming, with Collingwood also featuring prominently at the piano.
Ferris dedicated the tune to a friend in Melbourne, Australia, who was watching the livestream as part of a ‘jazz breakfast’.
After two songs featuring the flute Ferris moved to the other end of the tonal spectrum by picking up the baritone sax for the quartet’s version of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”. This featured a delightful ‘low end’ introduction featuring the deep sounds of the baritone sax and Harland’s plucked double bass. Following solos from Ferris, demonstrating an admirable fluency on the ‘big horn’, and Collingwood at the piano, Harland was to feature again with a melodic bass solo accompanied by the sound of Walker’s softly brushed drums. Ferris then took over again on baritone, adding a pleasing blues element to her phrasing.
There was a further change of instrument as Ferris moved to alto for a stunning version of the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn composition “Isfahan”. With Walker sitting out entirely the music revolved around the dialogues between Ferris and Collingwood and later Collingwood and Harland in a trio performance that was sparse but beautiful and ultimately deeply moving. One of my favourite versions of this tune appears on vibraphonist Gary Burton’s 1981 quartet release “Easy As Pie”, which features the alto saxophone of Jim Odgren. Tonight’s version was right up there along with that. The composition originally formed part of Ellington’s “The Far East Suite” from 1967, and featured the sublime alto saxophone of Johnny Hodges.
The quartet rounded off their set by paying tribute to another fallen giant, the American trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove, who died in November 2018, aged just forty nine. The tune “Soppin’ The Biscuit” (we Brits would probably call it “dunking”) was the opening track of Hargrove’s 1994 album “With The Tenors Of Our Time”, which teamed the trumpeter with a variety of famous saxophone playing guests. “Soppin’ The Biscuit” featured Stanley Turrentine and is a tune derived from the lineage of hard bop, with funky and Latin-esque flourishes. Ferris, on soulful, hard edged tenor evoked something of Turrentine’s power as she shared the solos with Collingwood - arguably his best feature of the night - and Harland, who concentrated his playing around the bridge of the bass. Walker also featured strongly as the quartet concluded the evening on an energetic note.
Overall this was a very enjoyable evening of straight-ahead jazz featuring a well chosen selection of material, with many of the tunes bona fide jazz classics. I was impressed by Ferris’ considerable facility on a range of instruments as she exhibited a versatility and virtuosity to rival that of the better known Alan Barnes. Meanwhile Collingwood, Harland and Walker offered empathic support, functioning well as a unit and also impressing with their individual features.
The evening was hosted by Zoe Gilby with her characteristic warmth and enthusiasm and the quality of the sound and visuals (which included the opportunity to enjoy close ups of the individual musicians) provided by Tyne Audio was excellent throughout.
The only thing missing was a live audience. The conclusion of each number was greeted by the sparse applause of Gilby and the Tyne Audio crew but this was a performance that should have been being enjoyed by a roomful of jazz enthusiasts, relaxing with drinks in their hands and appreciating the playing of this talented band of local heroes. Let us hope that those days can return again before too long.
In the meantime the next Jazz Café livestream from the Black Swan venue in Newcastle Arts Centre will be on Tuesday, April 27th 2021 and will feature the Matt MacKellar Band, a trio led by the young Matt MacKellar and featuring keyboard player Ben Lawrence and bassist Andy Champion. Full details can be found on the Newcastle Arts Centre website here;
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