by Ian Mann
April 08, 2022
An evening of swinging, hard driving, straight-ahead jazz. Kofi and his colleagues played with skill, passion and conviction, keeping the Cannonball Adderley legacy alive.
Tony Kofi Quartet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Corn Exchange Room, Kidderminster, 07/04/2022.
Tony Kofi – alto saxophone, Alex Webb – piano, Andrew Cleyndert – double bass, Alfonso Vitale – drums
Kidderminster Jazz Club’s April event saw saxophonist Tony Kofi leading his quartet through two sets of music celebrating the life and work of Kofi’s saxophone hero, Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley.
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, Alan Barnes and Chris Biscoe, trumpeters Byron Wallen and Quentin Collins, pianists Jonathan Gee, Tim Richards and John Turville, bassists Shez Raja and 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.
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 Edwin ‘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”.
The ‘Portrait of Cannonball’ project has been captured on record via Kofi’s latest album “Another Kind of Soul” which presents the show in an all instrumental format featuring a quintet of Kofi, Webb, trumpeter Andy Davies, bassist Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Alfonso Vitale. It was captured in a live jazz club environment at The Bear Jazz Club in Luton during a residency in late 2019.
“Another Kind of Soul” is a vinyl and digital release only, although a batch of promotional CDs were forwarded to reviewers, for which I was suitably grateful.
My review of the album, from which most of the previous paragraphs have been sourced, can be found here;
The line up that Kofi brought to Kidderminster featured album personnel Webb, Cleyndert and Vitale with only Davies absent. With no trumpet sharing the front-line an even greater emphasis was placed on Kofi as a soloist, but it was a challenge that this vastly experienced musician took in his stride, to the obvious delight of the Kidderminster audience.
Before the music commenced KJC organiser Annette Gregory invited the audience to remember the recently deceased jazz vocalist Tina May, who passed away on March 26th 2022 aged just sixty. Tina had performed brilliantly in this same room as recently as August 5th 2021 and the audience stood to deliver a minute of applause in memory of that performance and in acknowledgement of Tina’s enormous contribution to the UK jazz scene over many years. Her premature departure is so sad, and such a loss for our music. This was a beautiful gesture by Annette Gregory that was warmly appreciated by this particular listener.
Review of Tina May’s performance at Kidderminster Jazz Club here;
My personal tribute to Tina here;
The Kofi quartet commenced their performance with “The Chant”, a tune written by the British musician Victor Feldman (vibes, piano, percussion) who emigrated to the US and made a quite a name for himself ‘across the pond’ as both a player and composer. Kofi had specifically chosen the piece to mark Feldman’s birthday - he was born on 7th April 1934 and left us on 12th May 1987.
A version of “The Chant” appeared on Adderley’s album “The Pollwinners” and was delivered here in boppish, swinging fashion, with Kofi’s incisive tone on alto reminiscent of both Adderley and Jackie McLean. Kofi stretched out powerfully, followed by the versatile Webb at the piano, an authentic Steinway grand, and the hugely dexterous Cleyndert on double bass. Indeed the lively alto sax / double bass exchanges at both the start and close of the piece were a particularly distinctive characteristic of this opening number.
Kofi’s own “Operation Breadbasket” is written in the Adderley style and honours Adderley’s support of younger musicians as part of a 1960s scheme also championed by Martin Luther King. This introduced something of a Latin element and again included fluent and powerful solos from Kofi and Webb.
Cannonball’s younger trumpet playing brother Nat Adderley (1931-2000) was a prolific composer and the siblings often worked together. Next up was an arrangement of Nat’s composition “Teaneck”, which included an intense alto solo from Kofi plus further features from Webb at the piano and Vitale at the drums.
Many of tonight’s selections were sourced from Adderley’s 1958 album “Portrait of Cannonball”, the recording that gave its name to Kofi’s project. Among these was the Miles Davis ballad “Nardis”, something of a modern day standard. Kofi stated the theme before handing over to Cleyndert for an extended but highly melodic bass solo, accompanied only by the swish of Vitale’s brushes. The quality of Cleyndert’s playing was exceptional throughout the evening, particularly during his solo features, which exhibited an astonishing level of dexterity and melodic invention. I had been disappointed to miss a show by Cleyndert and his own group at Cheltenham Jazz Club in February. Flooded roads had prevented me from getting there, but tonight’s performance represented some form of compensation. Cleyndert’s stunning solo was followed by the leader’s own excursion on alto, gradually moving up through the gears as the music gathered momentum. Webb followed on piano, complemented by Cleyndert’s bass counter melodies and Vitale’s brushed drums.
It was Vitale and his brushes that introduced the final number of the first set, another tune from the “Portrait of Cannonball” album. This was an arrangement of the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “People Will Say We’re In Love”, a vehicle for Kofi’s expansive explorations on the melodic theme, superseded by a similarly discursive feature from Webb at the piano, this followed by an engaging dialogue between double bass and drums.
Set two commenced with the Frank Loesser tune “Never Will I Marry”, introduced by piano, bass and drums but with Kofi eventually joining to state the theme and take the first solo. He was followed by Webb at the piano and Cleyndert at the bass.
Adderley’s playing was rooted in the blues, and his own composition “Sack O’ Woe” represents the epitome of this. The Kofi quartet turned in a terrific version of this tune with Kofi’s gutsy alto soloing followed by Webb’s fluency at the piano and Cleyndert’s jaw dropping virtuosity on the bass. It’s probably fair to say that for many listeners there were numerous occasions when Cleyndert threatened to steal the show.
Kofi re-asserted himself somewhat on the smouldering ballad “Stars Fell on Alabama”, which was introduced by a stunning unaccompanied alto sax cadenza before signing off in the same way. In between Kofi stretched out emotively above an undertow of languid double bass and subtly brushed drums as Webb sat out. There was a definite gospel feel to the music, as if Kofi were preaching through his horn. In this saxophone trio format Cleyndert was also to feature as a soloist, his resonant tones complemented by Vitale’s sparse but delicate brushwork.
Cannonball’s own “Things Are Getting Better” was suitably uplifting, despite its obvious roots in the blues. A lively swinging performance included expansive solos from Kofi and Webb plus an extended dialogue between bass and drums.
The title track from “Another Kind Of Soul”, itself a Nat Adderley composition closed the show. Its introductory call and response exchanges between sax and drums sometimes recalled Nat’s most famous composition “Work Song” (of which more later). Solos here came from Kofi and Webb with the consistently impressive Vitale weighing in with a closing drum feature.
“Unit Seven”, written by Adderley’s bassist Sam Jones offered further solo opportunities for Kofi, Webb and, appropriately, Cleyndert.
The deserved encore was “Work Song” itself. “This needs no introduction” declared Kofi as the quartet launched into the old favourite, the introductory exchanges between Kofi and Cleyndert reminiscent of opener “The Chant”.
Kofi’s solo casually tossed in a Beatles quote (“Can’t Buy Me Love”) and his exuberance was matched by Webb’s piano feature and the later bass and drum dialogue.
This was a great way to end an evening of swinging, hard driving, straight-ahead jazz that was warmly appreciated by the Kidderminster audience. Business at the merch stall was brisk with a number of vinyl copies of “Another Kind of Soul” finding their way onto the turntables of Worcestershire. Tony Kofi and Alex Webb chatted readily with fans and for me it was good to meet with Alex Webb for the first time after hearing him on disc and following regular email correspondence. Thanks to Tony and Alfonso for speaking with me too.
This was an evening that began in sadness with the news of the death of Tina May, but which was ultimately a celebration of this great music that we call jazz. Kofi and his colleagues played with skill, passion and conviction, keeping the Cannonball Adderley legacy alive.
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