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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Group Theory + The Early Bird Band - A Jazz North East ‘Schmazz’ double bill @ The Jazz Café - February 15

Daniel Garel (Alto Sax); Ollie Farley (guitar);  Dylan Purches (bass);  Tristan Bacon (drums)
(Review/photos courtesy of Ken Drew)
Group Theory is a quartet of students (some are now ex-students) from Durham, all members of the University’s award-winning Big Band, but this the small group format gives them the opportunity to write and perform new compositions. They play a mix of imaginatively interpreted jazz standards alongside original compositions, mainly from the pen of alto saxophonist Daniel Garel.
The intro was a lively piece (Asymmetry?) by Garel which had a distinctly bluesy feel, followed by a tune with a strong groove, blues-tinged also, with an interesting time signature/rhythm, over which sax and guitar soloed.  Then a slow & melodic tune to take things down a bit, sax-led throughout.  To me, it was reminiscent of the laid-back style found in Duke’s Far East Suite. Nicely done, and a pleasingly slow pace.
Next Circling Outwards which was borne out of  Garel’s experimental drums/sax duo with Bacon on drums.  Garel remarked that he now looks back with surprise at this duo playing at such an event – but it was edgy and fun!  The next piece emerged from that duo, now re-worked into the quartet’s repertoire.   This was another fine piece, with lots of applause for the sax & guitar solos, perfectly backed by drums & bass.

The next piece to follow was, in fact, a première.  Dreamlike in pace and rhythm, with gentle drum accompanying moving through a depiction of the reaction to losing someone then returning to a peaceful pace. The guitar sequence was subtly echoed and nicely blues-tinged.  At the end, a few seconds of silence preceded the audience’s keen applause. Next up – a guest guitarist! Francis Tulip took to the stage to play a quick standard. After a brief intro, it quickly went into an extended nicely-paced solo from Tulip showing his dexterity along the fretboard, followed by a sax solo – at a fair pace too. Then to an energetic drum break, and close. 

The final tune:  Funk in Vermicelli (or was it Pumpkin Vermicelli or something similar? ). Again, interesting rhythms, quite angular both initially and again towards the end.  With an excellent sax solo then guitar solo, concluding with sax above the distinctly angular rhythm. Quite a varied piece, but hung together well.

So, a much appreciated all-round performance by Group Theory – their all-original compositions sounding very fresh, melodic and varied, with a good vibe to them all. 
-----
Alex Thompson (alto); James Metcalf (flugel, tpt); Thomas  Henry (guitar); Ben Lawrence (piano);  Alex Shipsey (bass);   Dylan Thompson (drums); Paul Edis (MD, sax, flute)
Previous to that, we heard from the Early Bird Band which was originally established by pianist Paul Edis (their MD) as a rehearsal group at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil, with all the members being in their teens. Also playing a mix of standards and originals - that they are increasingly in demand for ‘regular’ gigs beyond their regular rehearsals.  Paul Edis did remark tonight that it seemed to be the golden period of this second generation of Early Bird Band (the first incarnation supported Laura Jurd at Sage Gateshead) since they each have to move on at some stage.  He also remarked that we’d hear 3 or 4  World Premieres tonight, played by some of the finest emerging talent in the North East.  

First off, a lively tune (by Kenny Dorham, transcribed by Metcalf) with a good vibe to it providing a nice lively start.  Brief solos from the front line got us in the mood for what’s to come, as all seemed to be on-form from the start.  Next, Clouded Hills - Alex’s Thompson’s ballad with fine solos from Thompson on alto, Metcalf on flugel and Henry on guitar. Edis moved to flute for this one.  Then a composition by the pianist Ben Lawrence, but as yet it is not named. With a feel-good vibe, it has a nice melody with plenty room for solos from Lawrence himself, and Metcalf on flugel. 

Next was Dorian Atmosphere.  A loosely scored piece to provide opportunities for some improvisation.  With a loose feel, and some funky sections it gave (according to Edis) “an insight into the minds of Teenagers “.  Well, that’s one way to look at it, but it came together well, and all involved played very confidently. A very adventurous and progressive piece for such a young set of players.

Lastly - a Mingus tune, also transcribed by Metcalf. It was another quick and lively one, a good all-rounder to finish on.  Briefish solos were taken around the band, keeping it very lively, including a welcome and very enthusiastic drum solo from Dylan Thompson.  He may have been hidden at the back, but he made his presence felt!!  

In all, it was a good opportunity to see two bands showcasing what young developing musicians can do, as an ensemble and individually.
Ken

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