The Sound of ’59 among the rhubarb at Wakefield Jazz

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The premiere of Suite Rhubarb took place on the evening of Friday 21 February at Wakefield Jazz in celebration of the city’s annual rhubarb festival. Composed and conducted by the club’s promoter, Pete Rosser, the concert featured the Wakefield Sings! choir together with Pete on piano, Julia Mills tenor sax, Nick Wells bass and Caroline Boaden on drums. This humorous and enthusiastic performance was well received by the club’s packed out audience.

The main event, another celebration, followed after the break – this time to mark 1959, a seminal year in jazz history that produced groundbreaking albums that have since become classics. Bassist Adrian Knowles saluted this extraordinary output with a splendid set from his band, Sound of ’59. Interspersed between numbers and with period photos of the artists, album covers and related New York locations projected on a background screen, Knowles provided an engrossing commentary about these sessions.

The band kicked off with All Blues from Kind Of Blue and proceeded to deliver classic pieces from albums of artists such as Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver and John Coltrane. With a first-class front line of Jim Corry on alto sax, Joel Purnell tenor, Mark Chandler trumpet and Kev Holbrough trombone and a tight rhythm section of Jason Scott piano, Adrian Knowles bass and Caroline Boaden on drums, the music was magnetic.

Highlights were many and included Silver’s Sister Sadie, Mingus’s Fables of Faubus, Adderley’s Poor Butterfly, Ornette Colman’s Lonely Woman and Benny Golson’s Five Spot After Dark. The band paid due tribute to all but didn’t slavishly emulate – they were their own masters of delivery. A delivery executed at the top level.

Knowles hinted in the first set that the band might attempt a rendition of Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Many will know that this is considered to be one of the most challenging compositions owing to its speed and because it’s in three rapidly changing, harmonically distant keys. When the time came, Joel Purnell stepped up to the plate. “No pressure then” quipped Knowles and all eyes and ears were on Purnell from the start. He’d displayed a calm and relaxed assurance earlier in the set but midway through this lengthy number he appeared to experience the strain. Would he hold out? The audience were on the edge of their seats. Would he falter? Would he misplay and somehow apologise in embarrassment? Well, the answer is no – the delivery was faultless and the crowd cheered in appreciation.

Indeed, each musician was at the top of their game. Scott’s Oscar Peterson-type pianism in Saturday Night; superb alto soloing from Corry in Adderley’s Poor Butterfly; Chandler’s sparkling trumpet in Flamenco Sketches and Holbrough’s compelling trombone in Mingus’s gospel piece Better Git It In Your Soul with the crowd hand clapping in unison are just a few examples. Knowles injected urgency and intensity on bass throughout and Boaden supplied top-level drive and support on drums à la Max Roach, with no unnecessary flashness. With accomplished interplay of the highest order this is one helluva band – try and catch them if you can.

If you’ve never been to Wakefield Jazz try it out on a Friday night. Run by friendly volunteers, it has ample free parking, a full bar and hot food in the canteen for those who want a meal beforehand. You order food in advance on the website at www.wakefieldjazz.org.

Adrian Knowles, The Sound of ’59 & Suite Rhubarb. Wakefield Jazz, 21 February 2020