Andra Sparks Quintet. RAFA Club 21 March 2008

Andra Sparks (voice)

Nick Weldon (piano and arrangements)

Art Themen (tenor and soprano saxes)

Jeff Clyne (bass)

Trevor Tomkins (drums)


I wasn't familiar with Andra's work, other than a few snippets I'd heard on the web. BUT I did know the work of the guys in the band as they are simply legends of the British Jazz scene. So worth the visit just to hear them AND Nick Weldon is just one of my favourite pianists from anywhere.

So what was it like. Firstly it wasn't just a vocalist with jazz accompaniment. This was a band. The superb arrangements were by Nick Weldon and a great deal of care was taken to envelop every song with something meaningful behind and around the vocalising.

The choice of songs was exemplary.

The gig started with a medium tempo "Weaver of dreams" with Jeff soloing on bass. Jeff really is one of the true bass masters, great sound, lovely lines. This was followed by nice solos by Nick on piano and then Art on tenor.

There really wasn't a lackluster performance in the two sets we heard. Highlights for me were a lovely "Skylark" with an affecting vocal plus some iconoclastic tenor from Art sounding like a mad cross between Stan Getz and Albert Ayler. There were some strange sounds coming from the speakers during Jeff's inspired solo on this tune, which Nick advised afterwards was Jeff getting in touch with the "other side".

"Cheek to cheek" had swinging Andra plus stomping piano from NIck then some exciting eights between Art and drummer Trevor Tomkins.

Andra exposed her vocal abilities with just bass and drum accompaniment on "Just Squeeze Me" and was not found wanting.

Apart from the excellent choice of standards, Andra and Nick found some un- hackneyed material Bob Dorough's "Small day tomorrow", Pat Metheny's "Question & Answer", Wolf and Landesman's "Ballad of the sad young men" and Kenny Wheeler's "For Jan".


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