Sunday sun and showers in Hoxton surrounded an enterprising gig at the Hundred Years Gallery.
Percussionist and record producer Mark Wastell teamed up with tenor saxophone legend Alan Skidmore for a unique duo for saxophone and percussion.
The gallery’s basement holds about 25-30 people about half of whom seemed to be tenor sax players keen to experience this unique pairing. In his introduction, Mark recalled his first exposure to Skid’s music over thirty years ago and the striking and long-lasting impression it had on him.
For his part Alan warned that it had been two years since he’d played in public and that was in front of a full house at the Royal Albert Hall in the company of 60 other saxophonists in the tribute to Ronnie Scott.
Well with this line up it was always going to be a bit different. Added to which they had not rehearsed or ever played together except in a big ensemble number at Café Oto’s Coltrane tribute a few years back.
Since his childhood, Alan has always been passionate about the drums although his dad warned him off the seat with the advice: “You’ll always be first in and last out of the gig” but today he had several opportunities to play percussion alongside Mark whose array of drums, gongs, bells, shruti box and assorted devices must take him hours to stow and transport.
The first set began quietly and built into a sensuous soundscape which formed a base for Alan to join in with his tenor. There was a blues and ballad feel at the start but then, prompted by Mark’s ever-changing swirling textures and urgent beats, the Alan of SOS days emerged seeming to revel in free improvisation once again.
The second set featured a lot of call and response with ideas being thrown across the room between two musicians who were clearly enjoying each other’s company.Some of Mark’s sounds reminded me of Japan and at other times the duo took me off to the Africa of Ubizo, Alan’s collaboration with South African musicians from back in the early 2000s. The session just pointed up Mark’s ability to create a huge variety of sounds and Alan’s versatility on his instrument with lush melodic passages interspersed with honks and squeals, scales and octave leaps.
It included a sequence with both of them creating wonderful patterns on the drums. There were inevitably echoes of Coltrane from the tenor most notably with A Love Supreme featuring strongly towards the end.
An afternoon thoroughly enjoyed by all present. Let’s hope they can repeat it on a larger stage before too long.
John Coltrane may well have died on 17 July – indeed, sadly, he did 52 years ago – but on 17 July 2019 his spirit was evident at Café Oto for a 52nd anniversary commemorative concert featuring the Alan Skidmore Quartet. This event was organised by musician and producer Mark Wastell of Confront Recordings who had invited Alan to play at the previous concert in 2017 which marked fifty years since Coltrane’s death and which subsequently featured as a Confront CD set.
The Alan Skidmore Quartet
This year it was an all-Coltrane evening spread over three magnificent sets.
In the first of these Alan’s regular quartet featuring Steve Melling on piano, Andrew Cleyndert on double bass and Miles Levin on drums enchanted the audience with a continuous performance of three tracks from the seminal album A Love Supreme. They started with Resolution, segued into Pursuance and brought the first part of the evening to a close with the rarely performed Psalm. The last strains of this died away into one of those moments of enraptured silence before the extended applause broke out.
Alan plays Psalm
In his introduction Alan had explained that he couldn’t stand up for long periods because of having a leg full of steel rods which resulted from an accident some 40 years ago. So, Alan sat out the second set while the Steve Melling trio were joined by guest tenor saxophonist Ed Jones. Remaining with Coltrane material they treated us to blues and ballads including Mr Day from Coltrane Plays The Blues from 1962, Central Park West from Coltrane’s Sound released in 1964 and Moment’s Notice from the early Blue Trane from 1957.
Steve Melling Trio
The final set saw Alan with the quartet playing one of his most popular numbers After the Rain which Alan recorded with a full orchestra on the album with the same name in 1998. Utterly spellbinding in quieter ballad mode, Alan then wrapped up the evening by asking Ed Jones and Howard Cottle (who had featured alongside Alan in Paul Dunmall’s Sun Ship Quartet two years earlier) to join him on the stage. The intensity, inventiveness and variety of these three tenor sax masters on Transition from the epynymous posthumous album. But they did not overshadow Melling, Cleyndert and especially Miles Levin who all made huge contributions to this barnstorming end to a fabulous evening.
If there is an afterlife, JC would have been smiling broadly and applauding this wonderful tribute.
The finale with (l-r) Steve Melling, Ed Jones, Alan Skidmore, Andrew Cleyndert, Howard Cottle and Miles Levin
The three tenors
UPDATE 27 August 2019
At the Café Oto gig was renowned jazz journalist and reviewer John Fordham. He obviously enjoyed the evening and wrote this for the September issue of Jazzwise magazine.