Patchwork Jazz Orchestra at the QEH

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It’s so refreshing to hear a real live big band and especially one as vibrant as the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. Thus it was that on 1 March the foyer of London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall reverberated to the sound of some of the most exciting jazz to be heard anywhere. Perhaps taking its cue from that erstwhile big band Loose Tubes, the PJO has no designated leader but sports several composers. It also benefits from some of the major burgeoning talent on the British scene today, including bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado, trombonist Tom Green, saxophonist Alex Hitchcock and guitarist Rob Luft.

The London-based band formed in early 2014 and made their debut at the London Jazz Festival in November of that year. This gig, part of a UK mini-tour, was also the launch of the band’s excellent debut album, the quirkily-titled The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes and the 90-minute concert reflected this with copious selections from the recording.

The set kicked-off with pianist Liam Dunachie’s ebullient title track, on which Tom Smith and Alex Hitchcock soloed on alto and tenor respectively and an overdriven guitar solo was provided by Billy Marrows depping for Luft who had a prior engagement in London that night. Drummer Scott Chapman’s “Baracolle” followed, a strongly lyrical piece with solos from Sam Warner on flugelhorn and Sam Miles on tenor. Perhaps the star of the show was trombonist Tom Green’s “Badger Cam”, an absolute blast and a highly memorable number in which Marrows was heard again and Tom Ridout played a resounding baritone solo.

A change in pace was signified in trumpeter James Davison’s dirge “The Boy Roy” with an introduction by Misha Mullov-Abbado whose playing throughout was exceptional and importantly, clearly heard, sometimes difficult to achieve for an acoustic (albeit amplified) bass in a big band setting. This deeply haunting composition is redolent of Ellington at his most lugubrious.

Next up were two non-Pottercakes numbers commencing with altoist Sam Glaser’s “Jabberwocky” with solos from Glaser and Tom Dennis on trumpet followed by the title track from Mullov-Abbado’s Cross-Platform Interchange album released in 2017 on Edition Records. Returning to the new album, trombonist Kieran McLeod’s “Vixen” followed; beginning in semi-pastoral mode, it slowly transmuted into a more frenetic affair with solos from Tom Dennis on trumpet, McLeod on trombone and Hitchcock on tenor. 

Chapman’s labyrinthine and aptly-named “Mind Palace”, a nod to Sherlock Holmes, came next with solos from Green on trombone and Hitchcock on tenor. The final number was Frank Loesser’s “If I Were A Bell” proving beyond doubt that the band is as adept at playing standards as it is playing originals even to the point of the trombone section enacting a fleeting synchronised stand-up pastiche routine. 

But that wasn’t actually the end, for with the capacity audience baying for more,  the encore was another non-album piece, the calypso-flavoured “Garlic in the Caribbean” (“Ajo en el Caribe”), penned by McLeod, in which the band went ballistic, as did the ecstatic crowd.

The only minor disappointment was the realisation that the PJO’s appearances are all-too-rare due to the sheer logistics that attend the assembly of any 17-strong band. This also accounts for the four-year hiatus between the band’s formation and its recording debut. But be in no doubt, the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra is as good as it gets; a world-class ensemble that deserves and needs to be heard more widely and more regularly. 

Band list
Tom Smith, Sam Glaser (as); Alex Hitchcock, Sam Miles (ts); Tom Ridout (bs); Kieran McLeod, Tom Green, Jamie Pimenta (tb); Yusuf Narcin (btb); James Davison, Sam Warner, Jean-Paul Gervasoni, Tom Dennis (t); Liam Dunachie (p); Billy Marrows (g); Misha Mullov-Abbado (b); Scott Chapman (d).