Album launch concert: Rob Cope’s ‘Gemini’

Rob Cope (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet), Andy Scott (tenor saxophone), Liam Noble (piano), Paul Clarvis (drums)

Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 25 January, 2024
Venue: Vortex Jazz Club, London

A capacity crowd at the Vortex requires additional folding chairs in front of the tiny stage, and even then the audience size is only around fifty people. But this small jazz club in Dalston punches well above its size in terms of the calibre of performers – and tonight’s concert, to launch the release of Rob Cope’s album Gemini, was no exception.

Rob Cope is classically trained (Cheatham’s, Royal Northern College of Music, and a Masters from the Royal Academy of Music) and effortlessly straddles jazz and classical. So too does saxophonist Andy Scott, whose compositional credits include Rain, a wind concerto for double saxophone. Scott also happens to be one of Cope’s former teachers, and Cope himself now also teaches. The quartet’s pianist Liam Noble is a stalwart of British jazz and teacher as well (including at the Royal Academy and Birmingham Conservatoire); and drummer/percussionist Paul Clarvis (Bernstein’s preferred percussionist in London, and a teacher at the Royal Academy) also straddles classical and jazz, and has performed on hundreds of film scores.

The album itself (my review here) ranges from challenging melodies (such as the joyous  ‘Up’, klezmer-feel ‘The Dance’ and exhilarating blues ‘Laika’) through to the gentlest mood pieces, such as ‘Voices’ (on which the two horns weave a simple motif into an ear-catching counterpoint, before piano and drums join in with an almost insouciant looseness of feel) to ‘Across’ (from whose lullaby-like ostinati, on horns and piano, a tenor sax solo gradually builds). All of these tunes from the album (plus others) made an appearance, the band exploiting the greater time afforded by a concert to stretch out with extended improvisations. The absence of a bassist, unusual in a jazz rhythm section, was never an issue, the band skilfully balancing each other in terms of register (Noble favouring the lower and middle octaves of the piano) and stating or implying the harmony.

Cope is an entertaining raconteur, and he mixed tune introductions with amusing banter. It’s how we learnt that the brisk, staccato opening piece ‘Breathe’ was making its debut and had been written as a thank-you just for us, tonight’s audience, and that its name refers to the pauses written into the tune to allow the saxophonists to catch their breath amongst all the rapid tonguing. We also learnt that the opener to the second set was one of only two pieces not written by Cope, a jaunty take on ‘Mr Moustafa’ from the soundtrack to The Grand Budapest Hotel; and that the final piece of the night (the other non-Cope composition) was ‘Paris’ by Moondog, chosen because it was through playing for Moondog that Noble and Clarvis first met.

In all, this was a great concert in an intimate venue that earned palm-tingling claps, whoops and cheers from the lucky few who heard it.

Transcriptions from Gemini

Transcriptions of the music from Gemini will be published in April by Astute Music. Aimed at advanced saxophonists, it features all twelve pieces from the album. Along with the melodies and chord symbols, the book contains full transcriptions of each solo, giving players the choice between improvising or playing the solos as written. The book will be for two same-pitched saxophones and is aimed at post-grade 8 standard. Says Cope: ‘Inspired by my own advanced students, how hard they work and how late they practise into the night, I wanted to write something for them to be able to play together when looking to blow off steam!’

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