Playing a warmly heated upstairs room home to the weekly East Side Jazz Club - ''east London's premier jazz club'' is the slogan emblazoned on the club's banner livery - punters sit at waist high tables, vinyl spins before the gig, musicians play without any main overhead stage lighting and indeed in the second set it was practically darkness on stage apart from the twinkling of a few tiny reading lights that you could just about pick out by the bassist's feet. A first visit to this Leytonstone spot for the piano trio of Sultan Stevenson here taking to the club's very well tuned Yamaha upright with double bassist Jacob Gryn familiar from the last time marlbank caught the trio and a new drummer to us anyway in Joel Waters. The ex-servicemen's club room has a fairly low ceiling and the acoustics are pretty good with a well set up sound projection for tonight, the piano amplified by two microphones. Gryn's walking bass and ability to go into a double time feel at ease was striking early on while Stevenson who is a fine highly melodic writer who knows how to cater for a riff-groove alchemy spread around the trio was on sparkling form - his customised McCoy Tyner-like approach allied with varied material convincing from the get-go. First set tunes included 'Guilty by Association' and the sprawling 'Free' probably best of all and where the impressive Waters came into his own at the beginning.
On 'Safe Passage' which was out as a single with a horn section in 2020 there was easy rapport among the trio members and plenty of organic flow.
After the raffle - one lucky gig-goer won a bottle of wine - Stevenson unveiled new material in the second set, a five-part suite, spreading out sheet music all around his piano while Gryn lined up his charts on the floor to the side in front of him. Sultan told us that he has a new album coming out on 24 March which features Denys Baptiste and that certainly is an exciting prospect. Wearing not one but two bucket hats towards the end he told us jokingly ''I just realised that I was wearing two hats all evening'' before removing one of the matching pair. ''Careful how you say that,'' quipped a heckler. A fine evening - the pianist just gets better and better. Review and photos: Stephen Graham
The entrance to the Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen's Club, the Social, home to the East Side Jazz Club located on Harvey Road, London E11, above. Joel Waters, top left, Jacob Gryn, Sultan Stevenson
- Sultan Stevenson at the Vortex in 2021