Club focus: The Wheatsheaf, Oxford

From 2017. They have a new album together but on a day storm Doris wreaked havoc on travel plans for millions, Alan Barnes was not able to join Gilad Atzmon at the Spin in Oxford’s Wheatsheaf. Instead the fiery saxophonist breezed into the long …

Published: 30 Nov 2019. Updated: 4 months.

From 2017. They have a new album together but on a day storm Doris wreaked havoc on travel plans for millions, Alan Barnes was not able to join Gilad Atzmon at the Spin in Oxford’s Wheatsheaf. Instead the fiery saxophonist breezed into the long gigging room of the pub on the High playing a John Coltrane-themed set half a century – as he observed in a wryly twinkling aside to the front row – after the great man departed this mortal coil.

‘Impressions,’ ‘Afro Blue’, Atzmon switching from tenor sax to a heavily amplified viscerally effective clarinet reminiscent of his dazzling For The Ghosts Within co-leading stint with Robert Wyatt and Ros Stephen, and a waltzing ‘Giant Steps’ saw the set well underway, the leader joined by Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Enzo Zirilli, drums.

The Spin’s house drummer Mark Doffman, manning the door and standing up on a table at one point to better view the stand explained to marlbank, dipping in briefly, that the Spin club night at the boozer – which serves decent Hobgoblin ale among other beer on tap – has been running for 18 years and he and guitarist Pete Oxley are regular performers.

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The Art Farmer Quartet feat. Jim Hall, Interaction/"Live" at the Half-Note/To Sweden With Love, Atlantic

Review first published in 2013. Recorded the year after the Farmer quartet was formed and the Jazztet with Benny Golson had run its course Interaction made in the late-July period and on the first day of August of 1963 is cleaner and slicker than …

Published: 30 Nov 2019. Updated: 21 months.

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Review first published in 2013. Recorded the year after the Farmer quartet was formed and the Jazztet with Benny Golson had run its course Interaction made in the late-July period and on the first day of August of 1963 is cleaner and slicker than any of these three albums all available now via the 1000 Yen series on CD in the UK for the first time. With the same line-up as the laidback "Live" at the Half-Note it’s the studio side of the band here. Bird’s latinate ‘My Little Suede Shoes’ livens things up a bit half way through and Hall’s distorted guitar sounds quite weird but strangely appealing nonetheless. Swallow’s motion is excellent here as he not so much walks his bass as trots with it on ‘Suede Shoes.’

Recorded in December 1963 it’s almost but not quite the same group on "Live" at the Half-Note as To Sweden With Love, as drummer Pete La Roca (1938-2012) is replaced here by Walter Perkins who also features on Interaction. The club is the famous long-gone one on Hudson Street in New York where John Coltrane would record the legendary One Down, One Up session in 1965. Farmer was hip but no innovator unlike Trane yet listen to ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ and just inhale the sophistication. The crowd digs the five tunes, even if Perkins’ drumming can pall a bit, say on ‘Swing Spring’, but that’s a small quibble, and the album is worth buying alone for Farmer’s beautiful take on ‘What’s New’ even when the audience chat gets too much.

With the passing recently of Bengt Hallberg (who with Stan Getz popularised the Swedish folk tune, known in English as ‘Dear Old Stockholm’) this first ever issue on CD in the UK of To Sweden With Love is another charming reminder of another time, another place, and in particular early treatments of European folk music in the hands of top US jazzmen.

Recorded appropriately enough in Sweden in April 1964, Farmer (1928-1999) was at the heart and soul of mainstream mid-tempo "modern jazz" in his day and with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and Pete La Roca, laid down six tunes characterised by Farmer’s creamily buttery flugel lines, so beautifully melodic and impossibly laidback. The sound is good but it doesn’t do Hall any real favours on this album, although it’s all part of the spell. Not much in the way of sleeve notes unless you’re a reader of Japanese, the woman establishing strong eye contact on the front and back covers does not feature at all on To Sweden with Love for some probably highly sexist reason. Purists may well prefer Interaction most of all of these three but if you don’t mind a few rough edges and appreciate looseness more go for "Live" at the Half-Note. If you do you can almost dream you were there.