There was more to hear at the London Jazz Festival. I’ve never seen Cedar Walton live before and have clearly left it too late. He’s now 76. There’s no doubt about his iconic place in jazz history but the energy has gone. There were no highs and lows or “orgasms” as one listener commented. He just keeps playing in his own world, “Cedar’s Blues”, “Over the Rainbow”, “Little Sun Flower” and “Firm Roots” in his first set at Ronnie Scott’s. His second set was much more enthusiastic and included “Martha’s Prize” and Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star”.
Drummer Willie Jones 111 and bass player Darryl Hall knew their places. Jones’ solos were discrete and he didn’t try to dominate the set. Hall’s style was such that it got me talking about Scott LaFaro to the bass playing student sitting next to me at the bar. I saw Bill Evan’s last gig at Ronnies’. On the other hand, Piero Odorici on tenor sax overwhelmed the Quartet throughout and gave little space for Cedar, perhaps by design? I wished for a trio that night.
I’ve seen Geri Allen several times, the best gig being a trio performance at Queen Elizabeth Hall sometime ago with Paul Motion on drums. I’ve never forgotten the way he opened the set with a lightning swirl of the brushes. This time Allen played solo to a depleted audience in the Purcell Room to curious images on a screen behind her by photographer Carrie Mae Weems centred on Allen’s life. Earlier Allen was interviewed by Alan Shipton apparently in a dull mechanical way according to someone sitting next to me. Allen played relentlessly with jazz feel but not much emotion or variation. I don’t enjoy watching a screen and listening to the music at the same time. I don’t like music videos much either. I prefer my own mind pictures. The audience still applauded wildly and we were treated to a Charlie Parker song as an acceptable encore and thankfully no video.
The opening act was a trio called Curios lead by Tom Cawley on piano, Sam Burgess bass and Joshua Blackmore on drums. All three members played beautifully but it didn’t feel like jazz to me, whereas Geri Allen did. The songs had odd titles like “Nigel Roebuck” (an F1 journalist, “Brawn” (an F1 Team Principal) and “Maradona” (a footballer) which didn’t help the music much. The last song was obviously a love song but still not jazz to me. No blues or swing. But my classically trained guest saw a lot of merit in their playing.
Do you listen to John Scofield and Duane Eddy? I do and wouldn’t miss either of them in concert. Both played in London recently. Scofield at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the London Jazz Festival and Eddy aged 72 on tour in the UK for the first time in 18 years at the Royal Festival Hall, both to packed houses and acclaim. Scofield in a trio with the sublime Steve Swallow on electric bass and Eddy with the John Hawley Band, two stunning backing singers in red gowns, Hawley singing two Lee Hazlewood songs “The Girl on Death Row” and “Still As the Night” and a British blues singer Pete Molinari who did justice to the “Tennessee Waltz”, one of my favourite songs and places.
I walked away from both concerts on cloud nine. Scofield returned to top form, his rock’n'roll roots, jazz and intimate ballads. Swallow could have been mistaken for Steptoe until he stood upright and his long spider like fingers flew up and down the fret board in complete command. The music was magical with Bill Stewart on drums. In particular, “These Foolish Things”, the dirty rockin’ jazz lickin’ “Chicken Dog”, George Jones’ “Just a Girl I used to Know”, “Trio Blues” and “The Low Road”. I enjoyed Scofield’s New Orleans outing at last year’s London Jazz Festival but it felt like two different bands trying to play together. This year it was a mean untouchable trio I must hear again.
Duane Eddy kicked off with “Detour” and played his ’50’s twangy guitar rock’n'roll repetoire as if we were still there. I think I am. We also heard my favourites “40 Miles of Bad Road, 3.30 Blues, Peter Gunn and of course “Rebel Rouser” with a storming sax. Eddy’s started recording a new album with Hawley’s band and will return in the spring to perform it. Thank goodness someone has got Eddy to put down his book, get up out of his chair and play for us! What a man! Sadly, amongst others including Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes and Vince Gill, he lost some of his precious guitars in the Nashville floods last year. But that hasn’t quelled him and never will.