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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Alter Ego @ The Fox Inn, Hexham. Dec 6

Keith Robinson (alto saxophone), Niall Armstrong (tenor saxophone & flute), Dave Hignett (trumpet & flugelhorn), Andy Hawking (keyboards), Tony Abell (bass) & David Francis (drums)
(Review by Russell/Photo of Keith Robinson from BSH Archives).
The last night of the tour said, Keith Robinson. The first night (Thursday, December 1) at Durham’s Empty Shop, then, five days later, the tour bus completed its tortuous journey from Durham to Hexham just as the rain began to fall. The Fox Inn, just off the Allendale road, home to Hexham Jazz Club, welcomed Alter Ego, appearing remarkably fresh, making a beeline to the bar.

 Alter Ego play post-bop charts, the familiar and not so familiar, and a smattering of their own compositions. Altoist Robinson announced that the set list would be exactly as their gig in Durham. And it was, near enough. Kicking off with Budini, the Hexham Jazz Club regulars outnumbered the band. Tenor sax man, and occasional flautist, Niall Armstrong writes for the band and his Dog Leap Bounce stood comparison with the best of them. A Latin or samba number is a particular penchant of Alter Ego, and Episode from a Village Dance came from that bag, as did, later in the set, an unusual take on Naima. Coltrane as a samba prompted one astute listener to suggest – albeit jocularly – they got away with a near sacrilegious act!

McCoy Tyner’s Blues on the Corner – with drummer David Francis driving a la Blakey – hit the heights with some great alto from Robinson. Bookending Tyner, a couple of Niall Armstrong’s compositions – Undertone with its intricate front line voicings and Mustard Mash, the title perhaps indicating the composer’s imaginative culinary skills. The first set closer – Kenny Garrett’s Computer G – featured the frontline and Andy Hawking on keys with kit man Francis taking it home.

Second set: Blues Marx rounded up members of the band; first Robinson, alto, then Andy Hawking, keys. Their playing alerted the other members of the sextet (standing at the bar)  that their participation was required. Trumpeter Dave Hignett sauntered over to the stand, put down a pint of Guinness and gave it a blast. Tony Abell contributed a new tune of his own, a cannily disguised blues – Llangranog Blues – of Welsh origin, or inspiration, with Robinson stating the melody and the composer laying down a solo. Abell contributed one other tune, a blues – The Perpetrator – featuring the composer, Robinson and Hignett. As is their want, Bobby Watson’s A Wheel Within a Wheel, with its infectious internal logic, took Alter Ego up to closing time. Just time to squeeze in Joe Henderson’s Mo Joe. Alter Ego are a cracking band, nothing flash, simply first rate musicians playing great material. As and when their next ‘tour’ is announced, go hear them. Russell.

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