London Jazz Festival – Allison Neale: Art Pepper Plus Eleven

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Allison Neale (alto & tenor saxophone), Robert Fowler (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Freddie Gavita & Steve Fishwick (trumpets), Callum Au & Robbie Harvey (trombones), Richard Shepherd (baritone sax), Sammy Mayne (alto sax), Anna Drysdale (French horn), Gabriel Latchen (piano), Luke Steele (double bass), Matt Fishwick (drums)


Reviewed by: Julian Maynard-Smith

Reviewed: 20 November, 2016
Venue: The Elgin, 96 Ladbroke Grove, London

Allison NealePhotograph: Benjamin AmureOnly a few days on from Tim Garland’s celebration of Stan Getz’s 1962 album Focus, here was another dedication to a jazz album from the same era, the 1960 release Art Pepper Plus Eleven. Saxophonists in each case (Getz/Garland, Pepper/Neale), and both recordings featuring a larger than usual band: strings for Getz, brass and wind instruments for Pepper. What’s going on?

Perhaps the motivation was simply the joy of playing music from such classic albums. It certainly can’t be money: the demise of the big-band era was largely due to economics, and Allison Neale thanked her sponsors without whom this show wouldn’t have got on the road. Another indicator that this was a labour of love was the fact that the band played Marty Paich’s original arrangements: in several cases, lovingly transcribed by valve-trombonist Callum Au.

The role of Art Pepper was shared between Neale on alto, her phrasing remarkably similar to Pepper’s albeit with a slightly harder tone; and Robert Fowler, warm-toned on tenor, and more liquid on clarinet than Pepper’s dry woodiness. The whole band was tight, even on the trickiest passages. In particular, the bebop classics ‘Sure ’Nuff’ and ‘Donna Lee’ whipped along at a fair old crack. The musicians sounded as if they’ve frequently played together. Indeed they have: in various formations and during most of the preceding week, as part of a series of concerts at the Elgin under the banner of “BopFest”.

As the concert was largely about fidelity than innovation there were few surprises, but the track listing was different from the album and supplemented with other tunes strongly associated with Pepper: a lovely quartet version of ‘You and the Night and the Music’ to start the first set, and the catchy ‘Tin Tin Deo’ from another classic Pepper album, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section.

At the start of the second set, Neale said that the room’s going to be demolished and soon there won’t be any more concerts at this venue. Economics again? Either way, it’s a shame and I sincerely hope that “BopFest” returns next year, even if the venue’s different.

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