The last visit to these shores by US saxophonist Greg Abate was pre-pandemic, in autumn 2019, so it was good to see him returning to continue his (hopefully) regular tours. Halfway through his current one, he played Stratford-upon-Avon’s Arts House, accompanied by the impressively cohesive unit of pianist Toby Boalch, bassist James Owston and drummer Euan Palmer.
The lack of rehearsal opportunity was belied by the trio’s flexibility and willingness to quickly adapt to the material. This was exemplified by the accomplished Owston – completely unfazed when it was suggested he led into Miles Davis’ Solar.
Ranging from bebop (close your eyes and you’re transported back to The Three Deuces) to modern standards, pianist Boalch showed his mettle throughout, not least on Voyage (from Abate’s recent album Magic Dance – reviewed in JJ May 2021), as did the adept Palmer, creating a solid platform from the off, notably in a lively On Green Dolphin Street.
Abate’s direct approach has lost none of its edge and immediacy, his alto referencing old favourites: What’s New hinted at Parker with Out Of Nowhere and The Gypsy; Buddy’s Rendezvous was a take on When Lights Are Low; My Favourite Things, Softly As In A Morning Sunrise and Eleanor Rigby all made an appearance on Solar.
Ellington & Strayhorn were represented by Take The ‘A’ Train and a beautifully warm Chelsea Bridge, whilst he chose the flute for Contemplation and Angel Eyes. It’s a tribute to the trio for dealing so proficiently with all the numbers, soloing strongly and deservedly getting the appreciation of both audience and the leader himself, who encouraged and acknowledged their individual contributions.
Abate is around for a short time more, so if you have the opportunity, grab it. Remaining dates: Wakefield (12 November), Stockport (14), Bexley (15), Twickenham (16), Coventry (18), Portishead (19) and Blisworth, Northamptonshire (21).
Greg Abate at Arts House, Stratford-upon-Avon, 10 November 2021.