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Monday, March 20, 2017

Early Birds @ Jazz Café - March 16

Paul Edis (flute, clarinet, MD); Ben Lawrence, James Metcalfe (trumpets); Ryan DeSilva (baritone); Alex Thompson (alto); Mathew Downey (guitar); Phil Grobe (piano); Alex Shipsey (bass guitar); Matthew MacKellar (drums).
Ben Lawrence Trio - Dylan Thompson (drums).
(Review by Steve T).
Like police people, teachers and drivers, Early Birds just get younger. A veteran at seventeen, maybe now eighteen, Ben Lawrence was called upon to quell the high spirits of his fifteen or sixteen year old trio, after their debut at the Caff.
The band have regrouped and reinvented themselves and missed their former string section not.
Ladybird remains in the set and kicked things off for the just over twenty in the audience of mostly, but not exclusively family and friends. It's so easy for piano and guitar to get in each other’s way but these two have it cracked already, masterful comping from the guitarist and some great inflections cutting through from Dr Phil, his soloing far more confident and virtuosic than I've ever heard him. Look out Leeds.
Blue Bossa is another band favourite, here given a push towards the avant garde, particularly during the intro with Alex playing his mouthpiece and James playing muted.

Ben Lawrence then took the piano chair and Dylan Thompson relieved Whiplash of the drum-stool. Alex Shipsey remained on bass as the rest headed for the sidelines. The first piece by the trio was Tikka Taka which I'm guessing makes it a Lawrence original. It sounded like a piece from one of the great piano trios, Dylan seizing the opportunity to impress on a bit of a solo.
Beatrice followed, a Sam Rivers piece, Ben switching to a more seventies Fender Rhodes sound, but aimed at the head rather than the feet. Another innovator emerging.
The Early Birds reassembled for Autumn Leaves and a beautiful intro from Dr Phil and James, muted once again (but just his trumpet). The enhanced horn section, with Paul on flute and clarinet, make this band more brassy and big band-like but in a Gil Evans way, some excellent bluesy piano cutting through and the first solo from good old Nick - another young musician I love.  
Little Sunflower, which could be a bit of a signature piece, took us into the interval by which time the whole band had acquitted themselves with faultless ensemble playing and fine soloing all around, Matthew never failing to pull something out of the bag to embellish and enrich the whole thing, like a goalkeeper scoring goals.
Maiden Voyage got things going again before their most ambitious adventure yet. A free improvisation based on the workshops of Mingus and the Free Jazz School of the sixties.
Drums tend to restore order to these experiments, the rhythm section following, and Matthew proved a natural with more than enough technique to keep everything going and do the fancy stuff too. Just as Nick turned it into Ornette, James turned it into post - Bitches Brew Miles - James has a wandering spirit and could become a real innovator - before Alex and Ben got a thing going.
I've seen seasoned Jazz improvisers do this and people who specialise in this type of thing and tonight was up there. Perhaps the youngsters have less to un-learn. I've no doubt anybody from Jazz North East would have got it.
We left during Billie’s Bounce and I can imagine our editor checking the case law to see if that's even legal.
Steve T.


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