LJF 2019: Matt Roberts Biggish Band

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Directed by Matt Roberts, this 13-piece band were back again for another passionate night of music making. Roberts has delved into both jazz and pop worlds through his career playing with notable names such as Sir John Dankworth, Kenny Wheeler, Tim Garland but also popular artists including Paloma Faith, Everything Everything and Martha Reeves. Tonight it was the turn of hard bop to fusion trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

The evening began with Horace Silver’s tune Nica’s Dream before breaking out into Hubbard’s music. This featured Suite Sioux from Hubbard’s 1970 release Red Clay, showcasing a noteworthy solo from Josh Arcoleo making the tenor saxophone almost cry. The selection of tunes were mainly focused around the 1970s period and included further funkier compositions, turning things “cosmic”, according to Roberts.

As the night progressed, we heard a clean-cut finish and impressive cadenza performed by bebop specialist Sam Glaser on alto saxophone in Delphia before getting funky again with The Love Connection starring James Copus playing the daunting role of Hubbard but executing admirably. His rather cool and effortless flugelhorn projection floated smoothly over an active band. As one might expect, he was featured heavily throughout the evening.

The venue was perfect for the gig, a cosy and intimate yet vibrant space which the music filled. You could feel the ever-growing connection between the audience and musicians. The Spice of Life is undeniably an underrated setting for jazz and live music, overshadowed by neighbours such as Ronnie Scott’s.

As the second set proceeded, we were welcomed by an original composition by Roberts titled Nica’s Bossa. As well as Hubbard’s own compositions we were treated to works on which he famously contributed intense solos. What better such piece than Wayne Shorter’s Witch Hunt, where Hubbard developed such sublime solos? Theme From Kareem presented us with marvellously chiselled downbeats to start, giving James Allsopp the foundation to perform an energetic solo that was a baritone saxophone masterclass.

Roberts, a monumental arranger and composer, had the freedom to write for doubling instruments on this occasion, referring to Allsopp’s bass clarinet as a “serpent”. Camel Rise, a composition by George Cables, appeared on Hubbard’s High Energy and gave Jon Shenoy the chance to demonstrate the extensive range of the alto flute. The biggish band had their work cut out on a rather tricksy arrangement by Roberts on The Intrepid Fox; it blossomed into a climatic finale where there were ferocious trading eights between Josh Arcoleo and James Copus. The evening was polished off with another original composition by Roberts, encapsulating the imagination of Hubbard.

This was a well-defined array of music celebrating a master by some of the leading jazz musicians in the UK and beyond. Roberts’ detailed arrangements were accompanied by his light-hearted and humorous commentaries. A performance at Ronnie Scott’s is likely early next year to mark the 50th anniversary of Hubbard’s Red Clay.

Matt Roberts Biggish Band: George Hogg (t); James Copus (t, flh); Matt Roberts (t, flh); Sam Glaser (as); Jon Shenoy (as, f, af); Josh Arcoleo (ts); James Allsopp (bs, bcl); Olli Martin (tb); Owen Dawson (tb); Yusuf Narcin (btb); Matt Robinson (p, elp); Loz Garratt (db, elb); Dave Hamblett (d). The Spice of Life, Soho, London, 18 November 2019 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival