Oran Etkin, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

From December 2015. Clarinettist Oran Etkin while channelling Benny Goodman in this “reimagining” show was not involving himself with anything as literal as actually playing the role of Benny Goodman in the manner of pastiche. This after all was not …

Published: 28 Jan 2020. Updated: 21 months.

From December 2015. Clarinettist Oran Etkin while channelling Benny Goodman in this “reimagining” show was not involving himself with anything as literal as actually playing the role of Benny Goodman in the manner of pastiche.

This after all was not acting, and stylistically had a more modernist sensibility that some dusty tribute shows lack.

The first of his two-night stay at the Dean Street club, 2015 is 80 years on from the Palomar Ballroom Los Angeles residency that ushered in the Swing Era.

Etkin’s What’s New album captures a 21st century take on the thrill of the Goodman sound and the set list was based around the album.

Label mate singer Charenée Wade fresh from her Gil Scott-Heron triumph earlier this year came on for a few songs, not without an air of languid mischief on ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’; and the great vibist Steve Nelson also from the new Etkin record (also heard this year on Chris Potter Underground Orchestra’s Imaginary Cities) was vital in the modernist harmonies introduced, while the tasteful Helen Sung of the Mingus Big Band and drummer Ziv Ravitz from Shai Maestro’s trio completed this high-powered band.

The evening began with ‘What’s New’ title track of the new Motéma album, Etkin’s command of the upper register and up into the stratosphere beyond the normal scale and use of that ear-popping whine and leap of glissando makes you think above all of the groundbreaking creativity of Rhapsody in Blue.

‘Running Wild’ in Etkin’s hands is a romp, a world away from Some Like It Hot where movie fans absorb the song like mother’s milk but this was just as nutritious; while the “black national anthem” lightly renamed as ‘When Every Voice Shall Sing’ on this occasion on a damp Soho evening was as gentle as a Billy Taylor composition complete with a beautiful cadential figure from Sung at the end providing a big highlight.

Etkin switched to communicative bass clarinet for portions of the gig (sounding like soprano sax paradoxically) and dispelling the gloomy sound the instrument sometimes projects in lesser hands.

Standout Jelly Roll Morton tune ‘King Porter Stomp’ journeyed to the very creation of jazz that Goodman revived during the Swing Era decades on from its origins in New Orleans; and the reconfigured Etkin composition ‘Be Good Lady’ drew on the Gershwin classic ‘Lady Be Good’ adding another intrinsic part of the pluralistic pan-cultural mix that the album thrives on.

Etkin’s approach isn’t doggedly retro in the way that it could have been and that is to its massive credit although it is a respectful homage.

The playing is immaculate and Brooklyn-based Etkin responds well to the band, not lacking a stand-up bass player although Nelson had his work cut out as did Sung but vibes could have been even more demonstrative, Nelson one of the global masters of the instrument choosing restraint and cool presence throughout. Ravitz was more than active moving into frantic territory responding well to the stimulating wail and wang of the clarinet and the elegant skill of Wade’s vocals. SG

Helen Sung, top left, Oran Etkin and Steve Nelson at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Photo: Sabina Czajkowska

Tags:

Lineage, Hideaway, Streatham, London

From January 2013. Lineage made their London debut in Hideaway and this was only their second gig ever, the Streatham club had a busy Saturday night feel, as sleet fell softly outside. With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist …

Published: 28 Jan 2020. Updated: 12 months.

Next post

From January 2013. Lineage made their London debut in Hideaway and this was only their second gig ever, the Streatham club had a busy Saturday night feel, as sleet fell softly outside.

With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, with a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, fresh from a date with Skydive at the 606, and UK-based American drummer Rod Youngs, like Bartley and Kofi, a member of the great Abdullah Ibrahim’s band Ekaya.

The Collins Dictionary defines the word ‘Lineage’ as meaning in one primary sense “direct descent from an ancestor, especially a line of descendants from one ancestor”, and both as a diaspora band united in shared musical and cultural approaches, and as stylistic descendants of some of the giants of jazz from the hard bop years and their modern day counterparts, the band succeeds on both fronts as it does on its own terms as top class players. It’s also a meeting of old musical friends, as for instance Kofi and Wallen go way back to the heyday of 1990s hard bop band Nu Troop, and you can tell when two instrumentalists have a close understanding as they know each other’s moves and can read each other’s direction beyond the letter of the closely arranged often intricate material as here. Kofi said he couldn’t think of anyone better to play the trumpet part on his ballad ‘A Song For Papa Jack’, which appeared on Kofi’s acclaimed 2006 album Future Passed, the song dedicated to Tony’s father who died 15 years ago, and Wallen played it beautifully.

Talking to the audience later in the set Wallen made the astute comment: “Music is about relationships”. And that’s something audiences and musicians neglect to remember sometimes, but this band doesn’t in the broader sense even for one moment. Bookended by Woody Shaw tunes, opening with ‘Sweet Love of Mine’ and culminating at the end of the first set in Shaw’s classic mover, ‘Moontrane’ (Byron explained the title by saying amusingly: “Woody Shaw had a dream of Coltrane riding a bicycle on the moon”). Other set highlights were Tony Williams’ ‘Citadel’, heard on the much missed drummer’s 1980s Blue Note quintet album Civilization, here featuring Trevor Watkis on fine form as he was throughout, especially later on his own tune ‘With Substance’, which featured Larry Bartley and the deep throb of his bass was captured accurately by the club sound system, while Youngs’ cymbals were crisp and clear in the body of the big room. This band just has to be heard. SG.