Monday, June 06, 2016

Bone Crunching

Trombonista, Dave Keech, leads Hitchin-based, classic jazz combo, Close to the Bone.

I've been toying with the idea of starting a new music blog for awhile. Or maybe even a full-on webzine dedicated to jazz.  But until I can generate enough energy to wrestle with another Blogger or Wordpress template, MD&E will have to suffice as a vehicle for this topic. So for now I thought I'd write a review or two on the music scene in the South East of the UK and start with Hitchin in Hertfordshire.

Hitchin is a delightful English market town lying to the north of London's orbital commuter belt. It is quietly cultured in a genteel sort of way but apart from a few enlightened pubs putting on the occasional band there there isn't that much in the way of jazz. That is until recently. Club 85, a local music venue mostly known for rock music, began to host a jazz series. Bob Mardon, the manager at C85 and a veteran of the British festival scene, made the decision to put on a regular concert event  "Jazz Up!" The first of these was on May 29 and featured a local band, Dave Keech's Close to the Bone. Dave and his merry men (and often women) are a slightly loose group of well-known local musicians of astonishing virtuosity. On this occasion they were joined by Simon Spillett, one of the UK's leading tenor saxophonists. The gig turned out to be a terrific success. Club 85 was packed by the time the band kicked off. Their repertoire comprised mostly a mix of bop and hard bop standards which were rendered with tremendous panache. The audience clearly loved the atmosphere which was aided by a gorgeous graphic light show of iconic period images that had been compiled by Dave Keech.  Simon Spillett played much appreciated, paint-blistering, solos throughout the set. Mark Ridout on guitar was superb; in solos he showed he could shred with the best of them but play solid funky support too.  Always tasteful, his style reminded me a bit of  Martin Taylor with some Chuck Loeb thrown into the mix.  At the back, a youthful Scott Chapman stroked the skins and got into the pocket while Tom Mark laid down the bottom line groove on upright bass. Dave Keech led the band like an old pro and managed to deliver some terrific trombone solos too. Don't miss these guys if you get the chance. Overall a fantastic evening and hopefully the start of a substantial jazz scene in north Hertfordshire. Oh, and here are a few shots of the band I captured with my trusty Leica. Ars longa vita brevis!

The superb Simon Spillett on tenor sax scintillates with his searing hard bop chops.
Mark Ridout shreds while Faye Dunaway, Mickey Rourke and Charles Bukowski look on.
Tom Mark defines the bottom line to a larger than life audience (can anyone name the mystery woman in the leopard skin catsuit?)
The remarkable Scott Chapman holds everything together at the back and gets in the pocket.

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