Van Morrison back at the PowerHaus

Returning to Camden and the PowerHaus on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings Van Morrison has had a controversial year to say the least since December when he opened the venue to a severely reduced socially distanced audience, continuing his …

Published: 25 Oct 2021. Updated: 3 months.

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Returning to Camden and the PowerHaus on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings Van Morrison has had a controversial year to say the least since December when he opened the venue to a severely reduced socially distanced audience, continuing his anti-Lockdown protests and in one toe-curling episode that went viral at a cancelled concert in Belfast inviting the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, ''junior'', as Van referred to him, up on to the stage of the Europa Hotel to chant ''Robin Swann is very dangerous'' about the local health minister who had criticised him in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.

The double album Latest Record Project Vol 1 which followed in May months after Van's pre-Christmas opening stint at long time promoter Vince Power's fine reinvention of Dingwalls had quite a few excellent songs epecially the formidable 'Blue Funk' and no anti-Lockdown material thankfully. It turned out to be up there with 2008's Keep it Simple, his best record in many years and seems to have sold pretty well and is still a fixture in the UK jazz and blues chart. The blues were at the heart of it all and thinking back to last year's show when none of the new songs ahead were even previewed that was a factor although it was only one element in a big mix. Ray Charles-like soul and a range of Van classics found the singer in very fine voice.

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Sadly since an important contributor in Van's sound over many years saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and most recently another colleague heard on his excellent 1988 trad Irish album Irish Heartbeat the great piper Paddy Moloney passed away, with Van paying tribute to both online. It would be special if he did a tribute at these Camden shows in addition. Thinking back to that very fine PowerHaus show last year even when there was hardly any audience atmosphere because of the rules, Teena Lyle on percussion certainly made a big difference that night in the life of the rhythm section but Van's voice as ever is a remarkable instrument that can melt even the hardest of hearts. There have been a few changes in the band personnel since so this will be no replica experience. Let's hope he plays his classic of recent years still too underknown the beautiful 'Celtic New Year' given Samhain is around the corner but don't bet on it. Venue and ticket details

Dingwalls, now PowerHaus and Van Morrison with his band pictured opening the venue in December 2020. Photos: marlbank

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JT4, Jean Toussaint, Andrew McCormack, Michael Janisch, Shaney Forbes, Vortex

All leaders as Vortex director Oliver Weindling mentioned as he introduced the JT4 to the stage, saxophonist Jean Toussaint nonetheless was the headline draw, the famed former Jazz Messengers player who was in Art Blakey's classic band when Terence …

Published: 24 Oct 2021. Updated: 3 months.

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All leaders as Vortex director Oliver Weindling mentioned as he introduced the JT4 to the stage, saxophonist Jean Toussaint nonetheless was the headline draw, the famed former Jazz Messengers player who was in Art Blakey's classic band when Terence Blanchard was also a member in the 1980s and long-since a leading educator and professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and formidable mentor both as a teacher and a player to generations of musicians at this top pioneering London music college for jazz. One of his former students pianist Andrew McCormack who he told us later as a 15-year-old student asked whether the combo at the time could play his piece 'Boris the Spider' (!) has been in Jean's band for years and also is well-known as an avantist with altoist Jason Yarde and the pianist of bassist Kyle Eastwood, son of jazz-loving Hollywood icon Clint.

The third leader Oliver referred to in his introduction was the Whirlwind label boss bassist Michael Janisch who was a busy, stimulating, presence during this second house performance and took a nimble solo towards the end. Completing the quartet and a little late to the stand for this second house was Shaney Forbes heard in great form on Wednesday at the Late, Late Show in Matt Roberts' quartet playing Prestige period Miles.

The drummer, who made his name with the Bobby Hutcherson and Eric Dolphy-loving Empirical again showed massive command of his instrument and made most of the running. Set highlights included Wayne Shorter's 'Palladium' made famous by Weather Report and Jean's composition a tribute to his late sister entitled 'Cry of the Unheard.'

McCormack's solo piano feature dedicated to Carl Jung 'Dream Catcher' worked well and there was plenty of lively rapport among the quartet on other pieces. Jean, tall, lightly bearded and dapper, wiping himself down stood by the pillar at the back of the stage on breaks after yet another full on work-out on tenor dazzled whether playing Joe Henderson-like passages or simply the blues which the band did with considerable aplomb on Bobby Timmons' 'Moanin' at the end. 'Meteor', Toussaint's piece based on the 'Solar' Miles Davis piece chord changes that the Messengers played in their repertoire, was another high point as was the unannounced gospelly-bluesy number delivered just before the encore ('For Eve' possibly is the title if I heard Janisch correctly later among the bustle of the Will Glaser and James Allsopp gig downstairs afterwards when I asked the bassist about the piece). It was great to see the Vortex pretty full for the JT4, one of the busiest nights so far since the events of March 2020 changed everything, to add that extra bit of atmosphere and willing encouragement which the quartet certainly seemed to respond to. Stephen Graham

Jean Toussaint, above