Radio Banska CICCIC, Taunton

Southwest of England quintet mixed jazz with flavours from Mediterranea, their stance perhaps embodied in the title We're Not In Kansas Now

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Radio Banska at CICCIC, Taunton, 8 July 2023

Too many arts centres in this region (and no doubt elsewhere) fill their schedules with little else but stand-up comedians, tribute bands and juke-box musicals, so Taunton’s CICCIC (Creative Innovation Centre Community Interest Company) is therefore all the more valuable for its regular programming of non-mainstream music, including a good helping of jazz of various styles, plus there’s often an art exhibition thrown in.

Their latest presentation was a session by Radio Banska, a southwest quintet that mixes jazz with elements of Balkan and Levantine traditions, occasional reggae beats and Spanish tinges, generally of the kind that probably ultimately derived from Moorish sources.

The band has been disseminating its unusual mixture for over a decade and was co-founded by guitarist Dave Spencer and violinist Nina Trott who, sad to say, died from breast cancer in 2017. I asked Spencer what gave them the idea. He explained that it was simply that he and Trott were getting a little bored with playing in the standard jazz styles and asked themselves what else they really liked. The answer was world music, with a particular focus on eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. As this gig emphasised, it’s a concept that works well musically and was certainly much enjoyed by the audience.

Apart from Spencer, who handles announcements and banter as well as electric guitar, the current line-up is Craig Crofton (sax), Tony Barby (guitar and charanga), Sol Ahmed (bass) and Jon Clark (drums). Spencer took most of the solos but there were fine contributions from everyone: Barby’s roster included a couple of numbers featuring the charanga, a kind of small lute-like instrument originating in the Andes, and there were some rousing solos by Crofton that employed flurries of short repeated notes that vividly evoked Arabic/Eastern Mediterranean genres.

Most of the tunes were Spencer originals, including Isfahan (not confusable with the Ellington-Strayhorn number), The Levantine Waltz (which had complicated fun with the metre) and the appropriately titled We’re Not In Kansas Now, but there was also a strong version of John Zorn’s Ravayah.

At the end of the second set everyone went through what Spencer referred to as the pantomime of resisting an encore but they did accede to demands for one more tune. The audience clearly wanted even more but there was no doubt that the band had already given us excellent value, and those sinuous rhythmic patterns stayed lodged in the mind long afterwards.

Radio Banska at CICCIC, Taunton, Devon, UK. 8 July 2023