by Ian Mann
April 28, 2020
A strong all round quintet performance with everybody responding to their surroundings and the encouragement of a highly supportive audience.
“Another Kind Of Soul”
(The Last Music Co. LMLP217)
Tony Kofi – alto sax, Andy Davies – trumpet, Alex Webb – piano, Andrew Cleyndert – bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums
Born in Nottingham to Ghanaian parents saxophonist Tony Kofi is a hugely popular figure on the UK jazz scene and is a musician with a national and international reputation. He spent four years studying at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA and has performed with leading American jazz musicians such as trumpeters Donald Byrd and Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, drummer Clifford Jarvis and keyboard player Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith plus the World Saxophone Quartet. He has also been part of large ensembles led by pianist Andrew Hill and saxophonists David Murray and Sam Rivers (the Rivbea Orchestra). He has also worked with US3, Abdullah Ibrahim, Macy Gray and Harry Connick Jr.
Back in the UK Kofi has been a frequent prize winner at both the Parliamentary and BBC Jazz Awards and has also been the recipient of a MOBO nomination. He first emerged as a member of Jazz Warriors and has subsequently worked with bassist Gary Crosby in the bands Nu-Troop and Jazz Jamaica. He has also performed with other leading UK jazz musicians including saxophonists Courtney Pine and Chris Biscoe, trumpeters Byron Wallen and Quentin Collins, pianists Jonathan Gee, Tim Richards and John Turville, bassist Larry Bartley vibraphonist Orphy Robinson and guitarist Matt Chandler, among many others. He has also formed a highly creative alliance with the Ukrainian born, London based harp player Alina Bzhezhinska and appears on her exceptional 2018 album “Inspiration”, Bzhezhinska’s heartfelt homage to the influence of Alice and John Coltrane.
Review here; https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alina-bzhezhinska-inspiration
Kofi is best known as an exponent of the alto saxophone (occasionally doubling on soprano) but he is a versatile musician who also displays a remarkable facility on the larger baritone sax. In 2018 he appeared exclusively on baritone on the album “Point Blank”, which teamed him with the trio Organization, led by guitarist Simon Fernsby and featuring Pete Whittaker on Hammond and Pete Cater at the drums. I was fortunate enough to witness a live performance by this line up at the 2018 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny. My account of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
Kofi’s previous projects have included homages to the compositional genius of pianist Thelonious Monk, but as a saxophonist his primary influence has always been the late, great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (1928-75).
“The first recording I ever heard of Cannonball’s was of the Quintet with the opening track ‘Arriving Soon’” Kofi explains. “It opens with his lone saxophone. I was seventeen and from that moment on I was hypnotised, as if the pied piper had called out to me. I swore that before I got a good technique on the saxophone I would first acquire a voice that people could recognise and relate to. Cannonball’s sound is like a human voice. He had his own personal sound, which is like finding the rarest diamond that only belongs to you. His sense of rhythm was a revelation.”
For some time Kofi has been touring with a project that he has called “Portrait of Cannonball”, usually presenting the show in a quintet format, but with the group sometimes expanded to a sextet with the addition of a guest vocalist. Singer Deelee Dubé filled this role at a show at the Progress Theatre in Reading in 2019, an event covered by guest contributor Trevor Bannister, whose review can be found here;
On occasion the show has included a narration and visuals outlining details of Adderley’s life and music. In part this stems from the presence in the ranks of pianist Alex Webb, also a composer and promoter (Copasetic Productions), who has close links with musical theatre and has presented his own “words and music” productions, including shows about Billy Strayhorn, Charlie Parker and Lena Horne, plus the award winning “Café Society Swing”.
“Another Kind Of Soul” presents aspects of the “Portrait of Cannonball” show in an all instrumental format and was captured in a typical jazz club environment at The Bear Jazz Club in Luton, a venue sadly scheduled for closure, even before the outset of Covid-19. Sadly I never got to visit The Bear but from what I’ve heard it will be a venue that will be very much missed by its audiences.
The Kofi Quintet’s performance was captured by recording engineer Paul Riley during a residency in November / December 2019 and features a line up comprised of Kofi and Webb plus regular bassist Andrew Cleyndert and with Andy Davis and Alfonso Vitale filling the trumpet and drum chairs.
“Another Kind of Soul” is a vinyl and digital release only, although a batch of promotional CDs were forwarded to reviewers, for which I’m suitably grateful. The time constraints of the LP format engender that the album is fairly short by contemporary standards, clocking in at under forty minutes. Nevertheless it makes maximum use of the time allotted to it.
“Selecting the material was a really tough decision because we have so many, but we chose a combination of his really famous pieces and some not so well known” states Kofi before continuing; “the great thing about recording live is it gives you a real edge to perform and record. It’s a wonderful feeling when you connect with the audience and they with you. A lot of the solos I play were inspired by this connection.”
The programme includes two Cannonball inspired originals, one by Kofi, the other by Webb, plus the Adderley material mentioned above. This includes two compositions by Cannonball’s younger brother Nat Adderley (1931 - 2000), who often featured on trumpet in Cannonball’s bands and was also a prolific composer and bandleader in his own right.
The album opens with Webb’s “A Portrait of Cannonball”, which commences with a breezy Latin-esque, almost Caribbean, groove before morphing into a ballad featuring the soulful, emotive sound of Kofi’s alto. It’s a piece that crams a lot of information into its short running time, and intentionally so, with Webb seeking to express the sheer breadth of Adderley’s style.
Webb’s opener segues almost instantly into Kofi’s own “Operation Breadbasket”, his tribute to Adderley’s support of younger jazz musicians. Brisk, invigorating samba rhythms fuel the tight, complex unison melody lines of Kofi and Davies before the trumpeter embarks on a concise but highly fluent solo. Born in Swansea Davies is now based in London where he leads his own quartet and also works regularly at Ronnie Scott’s, often hosting the Late Night Jam Sessions. He is also a prolific session musician, working with pop acts such as Will Young and McFly and appearing regularly on television shows.
Nat Adderley’s title track comes roaring out of the blocks with more tight, but fiery, ensemble work and with drummer Vitale featuring strongly in the opening exchanges. The energy levels are maintained as Kofi and Davies exchange solos, the expressive urgency of Kofi’s playing matched by Davies’ fluency and dynamism, his solo including some dramatic high register trumpeting. Webb cuts loose for the first time with a dazzling piano solo and Vitale is featured strongly again towards the close. The tightly focussed energy of the performance is reflected by the vociferous enthusiasm of the audience’s reaction.
An unaccompanied saxophone cadenza introduces the standard “Stars Fell on Alabama” (Parish / Perkins), played by the trio of Kofi, Cleyndert and Vitale. The fluency of the intro extends into the subsequent solo with Kofi’s gently emotive, subtly blues tinged alto playing underpinned by the languid drag of Cleyndert’s bass allied to Vitale’s economical, but always apposite drumming. It’s a great showcase for Kofi’s skills as a ballad player and a towering performance ends as it began with another stunning passage of solo saxophone.
Cannonball Adderley’s own writing is featured on the playful, swinging “Things Are Getting Better”, which was the title track of a 1958 album that Adderley recorded with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Art Blakey. Kofi is in particularly ebullient form here, delivering a bravura solo that embraces many elements and pushes the alto to its limits. Subsequent solos come from Webb on piano and Cleyndert on double bass, both of which are highly skilled and thoroughly enjoyable, but nevertheless its Kofi’s dazzling excursion that stays longest in the memory.
Also by Cannonball “Sack O’ Woe” is an engaging blues that encourages more fine ensemble playing from a quintet that functions brilliantly as a unit and which is clearly ‘up for it’ in the crucible of a highly supportive live environment. Cleyndert and Vitale, aided by Webb, lay down a swinging, subtly propulsive groove that prompts lucid solos from Kofi and Davies, with these two followed by the consistently excellent Cleyndert.
Perhaps not surprisingly the album concludes with a rendition of Nat Adderley’s most famous composition, the enduringly popular “Work Song”, a genuine modern day standard. The quintet treat this much loved old work horse to a blistering outing with solos from Davies on trumpet, Kofi on incisive alto and Webb at the piano.
As an album “Another Kind Of Soul” represents a strong all round quintet performance with everybody responding to their surroundings and the encouragement of a highly supportive audience. The quality of the playing is reflected by the enthusiasm of the crowd, it must have been a hell of a night out in Luton.
Indeed it’s the sheer vivacity of these performances, allied to the skill of the playing, that lifts this album above the ranks of the usual ‘tribute’ set and earns it four stars and a recommendation. As I’ve said everybody plays well but ultimately it’s Kofi that emerges as the star, exhibiting a huge technical facility alongside a winning joie de vivre. His love for the music of the Adderley brothers shines throughout these performances, and there’s a touch of Charlie Parker in his style too. Yet, ultimately Kofi has also developed a sound that is very much his own and his soloing throughout this recording is fluent, inventive, imaginative and highly colourful, embracing a wide range of moods, styles and techniques – but always firmly rooted in the blues.
I’m writing this review in the midst of the Corona Virus lockdown and there’s a certain poignancy in listening to a live recording featuring a wildly enthusiastic audience in a crowded jazz club, especially as that recording was made only four or five months ago. It could be along time before we see and hear its like again.
Kofi had planned to tour widely with his “Portrait of Cannonball” project with a schedule stretching from April to September, but it’s certain that most, if not all, of these will now be cancelled. Please visit http://www.tonykofimusic.co.uk for updates and to purchase albums.
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