Gig review from Milestones: March 2008

I approached this gig with an ambivalence bordering on trepidation. On the one hand there was the mouth-watering prospect of a band comprising some of the biggest names in British jazz to look forward to; on the other hand there was a vocalist. I have to confess that jazz with vocals is not my favourite manifestation of the jazz form. The constraints of the traditional song structure can often inhibit the spontaneity and improvisation which, for me, is the essence of jazz at its very best.

I really shouldn't have worried. It quickly became apparent that a band of this quality wasn't going to let trifling considerations such as these get in way of creating some of the classiest and most thrilling jazz ever performed at Milestones. On bass, Jeff Clyne - who has played with Stan Tracey, John McLaughlin and Zoot Sims in his illustrious career - established effortless, swinging rhythms. Pianist Nick Weldon's inspired comping and angular, bluesy soloing at times reminded me of none other than the great Thelonious Monk. And on saxes the legendary Art Themen punctuated proceedings with brief, almost casual bursts of sound that had the quality of splintered shards of light.

Given my initial reservations however I'm pleased to say that the star of the show really was vocalist Andra Sparks, whose soft, understated delivery brought renewed lyrical immediacy to a repertoire of jazz standards that included songs by Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael. Her smouldering intensity clearly inspired her all-star band and the result was a truly memorable experience.

Michael Fisher

Lowestoft Journal (8-3-08)

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