Festival Jazz at St.Andrew’s

Tessa Quayle Jazz Trio / Claude Bolling – Jazz Concerto

Tessa Quayle sings Jazz Standards with Ben Wilcock (piano) and Alistair Isdale (double-bass)

St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace March Concerts

Tuesday 9th March

Claude Bolling – Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Piano Trio (1975)

Matthew Marshall (guitar) with Anita van Dijk (piano), Paul Dyne (bass) and Roger Sellers (drums)

St Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace March Concerts

Thursday 11th March

That old cliche “A time and place for everything” came to my mind while listening to and enjoying jazz singer Tessa Quayle’s cool and laid-back delivery of a selection of jazz standards at a St.Andrew’s lunchtime concert. As much as I thought her singing, and the playing that accompanied her efforts from the other members of her Trio, thoroughly expert and professional, I found myself wanting more from the experience. Had Tessa Quayle chosen Cole Porter’s “It’s all right with me” as one of her numbers, I think I would have been able to put my finger on what was lacking for me at the time – “It’s the wrong time / it’s the wrong place….” I feel sure that the singer’s extremely relaxed and loose-limbed style and deportment would have worked marvellously in a bar or nightclub or cabaret or theatre, and, just as importantly, at night (or in a setting that suggested a nocturnal ambience). It simply didn’t seem the right ambience at St.Andrew’s for the songs to fully work on and be worked upon. In retrospect I felt the need for a more atmospheric and quasi-theatrical environment, with dim lighting, drinks and (dare one say it in these nicotine-unfriendly times?) a touch of cigarette smoke to create the appropriate mood for such music and its performance.

Jazz singing suggests a kind of generic style described by words such as those I’ve already used – cool, laid-back, relaxed, and so on – but given the circumstances and physical surroundings of the concert, I wondered whether the performers needed more than that on this occasion. Without the “trappings” the focus was very much on the singer, and, to a lesser extent, on the trio as a whole; and I thought their music-making, when put under such scrutiny, somehow lacked real intensity. Seldom during the performances did I sense the musicians were “transfixed” or totally absorbed by what they were playing – and, of course, I freely admit in relaying this impression the fault could well be mine through inexperience of this style of music and performing. However, I could imagine performances of these songs conveying heartfelt emotion across a range of feelings – and I suspect that this just wasn’t Tessa Quayle’s style. What she and her musicians did would have obviously suited some of the songs admirably; but across the span of an entire concert I couldn’t help feeling a sameness regarding the ever-so-noticeable detachment she brought to each song. Perhaps I needed to sit closer up, to give the visceral possibilities a better chance – though I suspect that such connection wasn’t what these performances were about.

The concert began with Sonny Burke’s “Black Coffee”, the singer a bit difficult to hear at first, though as “the pitch of the hall” was established, my ear became accustomed to her sound, enough to appreciate the agility of her wordless vocalising in “Bernie’s Tune” originally an instrumental by Bernie Miller. I liked “Autumn Leaves” with its high bass work and nifty exchanges between singer and pianist, and the ear-catching rhythmic irregularities of Thelonious Monk’s “In Walked Bud” with its 4 versus 3 rhythms. However, I found myself wishing for a more gutsy, abandoned feeling from the singer in “Come on Home”, though I liked her similarly wry delivery of “Anthropology”, which she referred to as “Charlie’s Anthropology”, presumably by way of tribute to Charlie Parker. “Nica’s Dream” was notable for a marvellous piano solo from Ben Wilcock, but a real highlight was the duo “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer), the musicians free and flexible at the beginning, and generating real “swing” towards the end. Finally, there was the quizzical, sometimes declamatory “Moanin”, with its Negro-spiritual-like feeling, activated again by fluent and mellifluous piano and bass improvisations and easeful teamwork among the trio.

Perhaps one day I’ll get the chance to hear Tessa Quayle sing in a different setting, one in which she’ll more readily ignite those performance sparks which her amazingly rich and varied experience as a singer so far indicates she’s capable of. An enjoyable concert, then – but leaving less of an impression that I’d hoped it would. I confess to having fewer initial expectations from a second concert at St.Andrew’s involving jazz musicians, one involving classical guitarist Matthew Marshall and a jazz group, the work being Claude Bolling’s Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Piano Trio. One of a number of “crossover” works by Bolling, written for classical guitarist Alexander Lagoya in 1975, it made an attractive if uneven impression on me, through no lack of committed advocacy from Matthew Marshall and his cohorts – like a lot of “other genres with classical” works it did best exploring its “own” territories, its jazz rhythms and timbres, and was at its weakest when trying to imitate “classical” styles and gestures (rather like Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and almost every jazz-inspired mix with classical forms ever since).

Parts of the work I found surprisingly involving and interesting, such as the first movement’s Hispanic Dance in 5/4, bluesy in places, Spanish in others (owing a lot to Rodrigo) – the blues episodes reverted to 4/4 in a kind of “trio” section, before driving back to the 5/4 rhythm, and just before the end “stressing” the patternings differently, to exhilarating effect. I also liked the third movement’s busy fugal scamperings, the instrumental lines nicely dovetailed before Anita van Dijk’s  piano “jazzes up” the patterns, inspiring the double bass (Paul Dyne) to take the lead, after which guitar and piano resume their dialogue, all very Bachian, with a nice rallentando ending. Matthew Marshall’s solo guitar work was in evidence at the beginnings of at least three of the movements, by turns improvisatory, and strongly rhythmic, each evoking a different kind of sultriness, then in the work’s finale, generating exhilarating pace with rapid scamperings, contriving with the piano to produce a “Saint-Saens” kind of ending, brilliant and flowing. Pianist Anita van Dijk skilfully recovered her poise after seeming to lose her way  momentarily in this movement, in time to support her drummer, Roger Sellars, letting off percussive firecrackers towards the end of the work, and with the others, gathering in and winding up the threads with a grandly ascending flourish.

Entertainment, enjoyment, and food for thought regarding music, times and places….

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