Xhosa Cole quartet, Vortex, London

Themed around the Larry Young Blue Note album Unity released in 1966 delivered in the second set of the concert tenor saxophonist Xhosa Cole cut a tall, dapper presence dressed in a striped blazer, tie, and flannels, his style as classic as his …

Published: 11 Mar 2020. Updated: 4 months.

Themed around the Larry Young Blue Note album Unity released in 1966 delivered in the second set of the concert tenor saxophonist Xhosa Cole cut a tall, dapper presence dressed in a striped blazer, tie, and flannels, his style as classic as his look, in the front line jousting throughout with the pure toned trumpet star and bandleader in his own right Jay Phelps a little less formally dressed but stylish as ever. Jim Bashford was on drums playing the Elvin Jones role while Noah Stoneman on Nord C3 organ if you like was the Larry Young figure and rose to the challenge. Cole of course was our Joe Henderson and Jay, Woody Shaw. But this was not impersonation and each player has his own style and brought personality to a sound for it to become more than the sum of its parts. Stoneman has a lot of potential and reminded me of Kit Downes in his early days (who Jay recorded with in Empirical on their first award-winning album in the early days).

The first set begun by a boogaloo in the Lee Morgan mould, in terms of highlights of this part of the concert the real moment was within a tribute to the late great McCoy Tyner with 'Contemplation' beautifully rendered by Xhosa up high in the register on that achingly beautiful tune as the melody floats down the scale so tenderly.

By contrast trad jazz got a look in with the romping 'John Brown's Body' something I haven't heard live in years.

Cole has a fantastic technique and his solos have an intensity to them even when his timbre is light and airy there is strength and stamina to his method and plenty of detours ahead in the improvising journey.

Hot on the stage and a warm-ish night the relaxed but attentive audience responded well to the Young material later, the tunes played in the order they occur on the album.

The audience helped Xhosa gloss 'Zoltan' named for the Hungarian composer Kodály as he chatted engagingly explaining the tunes, and we all warmed to the lovely 'The Moontrane' with 'Monk's Dream' and 'If' coming in between. 'Softly as in a Morning Sunrise' was a warm treatment, while earlier the band displayed their facility in the tricky time shifts on the Monk. (Even more so on the very hairy 'Played Twice' in the first set.)

An excellent band: I'll be looking to hear Cole as soon as reasonably possible. His rapport with Phelps especially the way they can riff contrapuntally so deftly as Stoneman soloed was great to witness and added to the lush voicings ornamenting the organ. The level of syncopation throughout especially on the Monk material and then taking the tempo up on the super busy 'Beyond All Limits' was outstanding. SG

Jay Phelps, top left, Noah Stoneman and Xhosa Cole pictured above. pic. Marlbank

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