The Canteen, Monday August 17
There’s fine art to managing a jazz jam session. Things can so easily descend into an awkward murk of mismatched abilities, competitive (and interminable) solos and big indecisive pauses between numbers. But the well-established fortnightly Canteen Jazz Session has two of the key ingredients well covered: an adaptable and skilful house rhythm section (Paolo Adamo on drums, Pasquale Votino on bass) and a masterful front man (Craig Crofton on sax). Craig’s experience as both player and teacher plus his admirable chutzpah as an MC all come to bear in somehow enabling an unplanned dozen players and singers to have their turn in the spotlight through a steadily paced evening of listenable and varied jazz.
So it must have been something of a mixed blessing when, alongside the usual mix of local singers and players, a bunch of New Orleans hot-shots rolled into the Canteen having played in Bristol the night before. How to do justice to the opportunity and not snub the session’s more usual players? Somehow Craig pulled that one off, though the seat of his metaphorical pants must have been worn pretty thin in the achievement. Happily, transatlantic visiting outfit The Session originated in New Orleans jam sessions – albeit after considerable amounts of musical education – so were happy to combine ‘sitting in’ duties with opportunities to play their own material as the evening progressed.
A short opening set featured planned visitor Dan Moore on keyboards joining the house trio for some decidedly cool school tunes including a measured It Could Happen To You, all the players loosening into the number nicely. Then up came The Session, albeit without drummer Darien Douglas, to take the vibe and run with it. They were instantly impressive, though hardly showing off, with Stephen Lands’ super-fluent trumpet and Jasen Weaver’s defining precision on bass immediately ear catching.
So far, so professional – and no doubt a little frustrating for the sessioneers wetting their reeds and tuning their strings around the room. But this was where the jazz thing kicked in as Craig introduced a sequence of players into the mix and The Session guys played their part, welcoming a guitarist, providing backing for vocalists, coming and going with the house players in a smoothly running set of familiar songs and tunes where everybody got to solo if they wanted to. Bass guitar player Dave did a fine walking bass line through A Night In Tunisia, and stylishly be-spatted JC added some hot clarinet and vocals to It Don’t Mean A Thing, a number also featuring Annalie on dynamic violin and Dan Moore’s quietly assured piano. A big sax convention assembled for All The Things You Are, with the Session’s James Partridge a notable contributor, and then a final number from his full band – Darien Douglas having already arrived and claimed the drumseat – provided a nice pyrotechnic flourish to end proceedings.
Like all jam sessions it had been a pick’n’mix selection of style and standards but unlike many the quality had been high throughout and it delivered great entertainment value for the non-playing audience.