Friday, 24 September 2021

Jazz quartet has the world on a string

Jazz quartet has the world on a string

Jazz at St Andrew’s | St Andrew’s Church, Caversham | Saturday, October 14

THE sight of the brightly polished opened-wide grand piano, its inner surfaces reflecting a gleaming rack of wind instruments and a “stand-up” bass was the scene that greeted the 150-strong audience for the first ever jazz performance in the Concerts in Caversham series at St Andrew’s Church.

The Simon Lasky Quartet are Simon Lasky on piano, Jessica Radcliffe on vocals, Simon Bates on alto saxophone, clarinet and alto flute, and Robert Rickenberg on double bass.

As the musicians came on, the vibe was immediately tangible. Here was a group that was out to enjoy both its own company and that of its audience — natural, easy, relaxed and polished, without a hint of pretension of false bonhomie.

The evening began simply with Harold Arlen’s I’ve Got the World on a String, where the immediate impact was both relaxing and reassuring: the concert space’s acoustic qualities were very pleasing.

Jessica Radcliffe’s open commitment and consistently expressive face and body language was a delight, her voice strong and infinitely varied in nuance and tonal colour. With a real theatrical awareness she radiated sincerity, humour and intelligence through her singing. Rickenberg’s bass came across as strong and earthy, the piano gentle, soprano sax brightly soaring.

Irving Berlin’s How Deep is the Ocean opened with bass rhythms from Rickenberg and finger snaps from Bates, creating a sparse but inviting opening, before some crisply fine scat singing from Radcliffe almost put the music before the lyrics and an alto sax solo drew the first jazz club-style applause of the evening.

Coming Home from Simon Lasky’s new album Story Inside saw declamatory, rich chords from the piano reinforced by bass and alto sax, this time with Bates’s tone reminiscent of Ian Bellamy’s glorious outpourings with the group Quercus in Brecon Cathedral.

Latin rhythms eased their way into the consciousness, with rapid patterns cascading from the saxophone and a high bass line and a semiquaver percussion pattern reminding us that this line-up had that unusual feature: a jazz quartet with no drummer! Again, a hint of the cathedral as the ringing sax voice rang out over Lasky’s arpeggiating piano. This was highly atmospheric music, skilfully presented.

Harry Warren and Al Dublin’s I Only Have Eyes for You was the final witty piece at the end of a great evening’s entertainment — a short but highly accomplished punctuation mark that left the audience happily wanting more, some time in the hopefully not too distant future.

Marc Edwards

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