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Brel, Ashton Lane

Saturday 10 September 2011

The gig was billed as a performance by the Zoë Gilby Quintet, and correctly so. This was very much a five-piece band, one of whom happened to be a (rather good) vocalist, rather than simply a singer plus backing musicians.

The interplay between the musicians, of the type which only comes from having worked together as a group on a regular basis, was one of the things which made this gig so enjoyable. Whether it was guitarist Mark Williams and trumpeter Noel Dennis trading phrases towards the end of the first number of the second set, or Dennis picking up on the last phrase of Gilby’s scatted solo on “Caravan” to launch his own solo, the musicians always had a wonderful ability to improvise as a unit.

They also benefitted from a good selection of material, spurning the more hackneyed standards. We got a selection of jazz pieces, including several Duke Ellington tunes, Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” and the Joni Mitchell-Charles Mingus collaboration “Dry Cleaner from Des Moines”; some Jobim numbers; a few originals co-written by Gilby and bassist (and husband) Andy Champion; and a few more contemporary songs, including tunes by Leon Russell and Tom Waits. They were prepared to take risks with the arrangements too, rather than simply replicating the original. Ellington’s “Beginning to See the Light” was played unusually fast and slipped into Benny Carter’s “When Lights are Low” in the middle. However, I must admit I didn’t think the Latin version of “Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me” really worked.

There was a good variation of pace through out the show, with a mixture of fast swinging tunes, slow ballads and Latin American grooves. Just to ensure things didn’t get monotonous, they also used different combinations of musicians on different numbers. Noel Dennis alternated between trumpet and flugelhorn and even sat out several numbers, and at times drummer Richard Brown took a break and they dropped down to the trio of Gilby, Champion and guitarist Mark Williams. Gilby and Champion even did a Sheila Jordan and partner style voice and bass duo version of Tom Waits “Down in the Hole”.

The band were all fine players, but I was particularly taken by Noel Dennis’s trumpet and flugelhorn playing. He demonstrated a fine combination of an old-fashioned almost pre-bop tone and modern harmonies: an approach I’m very fond of.

This was the first time I’ve been to any of the regular Saturday afternoon jazz events at Brel. I thought it was a decent enough venue, with the band set up at one end of the conservatory out the back of the bar, but inevitably for an informal pub gig there was a bit of intrusive chatter from the eaters and drinkers at times. I enjoyed the performance a lot, but it would be nice to hear the quintet again in a venue where people are solely there to hear the music.

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