Alex Merritt / Steve Fishwick Quintet at The Lescar

The group played a superb set of straight-ahead and contemporary originals inspired by Strayhorn, Stanley Cowell, Pablo Held and others

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Alex Merritt (left) and Steve Fishwick. Photo © Brian Payne

There was a buzz of anticipation at The Lescar on 2 March as the pub’s socially distanced, capacity audience waited for the band to come on. The Alex Merritt / Steve Fishwick Quintet were about to play their fourth gig of a tour promoting their album Mind-Ear-Ladder. They’d already played Soho’s Pizza Express, Bristol’s Bebop Club and Cambridge Modern Jazz. Now it was Sheffield’s turn.

The Lescar crowd were not to be disappointed. Fronted by its co-leaders, Alex Merritt on tenor sax and Steve Fishwick on trumpet, flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet, the quintet with its top-flight rhythm section of John Turville piano, Mick Coady bass and Fishwick’s brother Matt on drums delivered a storming performance of straight-ahead and contemporary jazz.

All the numbers were originals. They opened with UHDC, a composition by Turville. Its title, the acronym for Upper Holloway Dental Clinic, being a pun on Billy Strayhorn’s UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group) which referred to the group of Harlem physicians in Duke Ellington’s social circle.

With something of a medical theme emerging, Steve went on to inform us that one of his compositions – Dr Wu, What’s Wrong With You? – concerned an over-enthusiastic doctor who had caused panic with an erroneous diagnosis during what should have been a routine hospital procedure. Three other numbers written by Fishwick and performed tonight were Hollow Man, influenced by the music of Stanley Cowell; a minor blues entitled Number Nine and Linda – a meditative composition penned for Fishwick’s mother. Four compositions were contributed by Merritt – Pablo-ish, in dedication to the German pianist Pablo Held; Ma Ballade, written for Merritt’s mother who’d been seriously ill; At St George’s – a church in Camberwell where he’d worked on the album’s music – and his lyrical New Waltz.

Tonight’s superb set was loudly applauded by the appreciative audience. The following night, the band were due to play in Aberdeen and the next day they were travelling back down to Leeds for a workshop and concert at the conservatoire. It’s a busy schedule. You can see them on the last leg of their tour at Norwich Jazz Club on 19 April, Bristol Fringe on the 27th and Birmingham Jazz on the 29th.

For those who haven’t been before, The Lescar in Sheffield is a great pub serving an ever-changing range of craft ales. Its jazz club, run by musicians on a not-for-profit basis every Wednesday has been going since the mid-90s. You can find the details at www.jazzatthelescar.com.