Jazz should be for the people and is best experienced up close. Indeed, there are many who would prefer to hear a less accomplished trumpeter in the informal surroundings of their local pub than Wynton Marsalis in an area the size of a football stadium.
There may be many others who wouldn’t, but when you can experience world class musicians in the intimacy of a cellar bar and at a price everyone can afford, you clearly have the best of both worlds.
Such was the case at the Green Man on Euston Road last Friday night. Peter King is the septuagenarian alto saxophonist who performed at the opening night of Ronnie Scott’s in 1959 and it still virtually peerless in his field. Henry Armburg-Jennings, on the other hand, is just 21 and has already carved a reputation as one of Britain’s most pre-eminent trumpeters. If Soweto Kinch represents the cutting edge of British jazz today, this pair, separated by almost fifty years in age, make an entirely different point about the genre: that, ultimately, it is timeless.
Not that this meant they presented music only suitable for old men with slippers and a pipe. In celebrating fiery post-bop jazz the pair’s quintet put on a show that was clean, sharp and edgy: sometimes haunting in its staggering depths, but always captivating in its exemplary execution.
Peter King was on top form, blasting away with his usual blend of nimble fingering and firm breath control. With that certain brand of panache that only he can deliver, his performance of the medley that included Lush Life and Body and Soul was an undoubted highlight of the evening. Henry Armburg-Jennings was no less impressive as he worked his way through such classics as Stella by Starlight and I Can’t Get Started. The other three band members were also on top form. Leon Greening provided a series of mightily accomplished keyboard solos, especially in All the Things You Are. Drummer Steve Brown maximised on his moments in the spotlight in Yes or No and Cherokee, while nowhere was the total hush in the room more apparent than when bassist Dan Farrant delivered his solos.
Pub venues sometimes have to repeatedly request silence, but, with the audience transfixed throughout, no such appeals were necessary. This gig also allowed jazz to be shown at its purest, and in all its selfless glory. The level of improvisation could be greater than in those concerts in larger venues that involved more people. King and Armburg-Jennings also proved astute at knowing exactly where and when to support each other, and were happy to step aside and let other group members take centre-stage, allowing each to subsequently continue for as long as they wanted.
The 2010 London Jazz Festival may be rapidly drawing to a close, but the fact that the Green Man stages jazz every Wednesday is symbolic of the fact that there are opportunities to hear great jazz at a variety of London venues at any time of the year. So now that the excitement is over, it’s on with the excitement!