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Live From Old York: Mark Lockheart, King Courgette, La Mer Trio & YO1 Festival

Martin Longley By

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Mark Lockheart's Ellington In Anticipation
The National Centre For Early Music
April 25, 2014

The music of Duke Ellington might represent an oft-traversed path across the jazz firmament, but the English saxophonist and composer Mark Lockheart can justify such persistent attentions. During the last decade, this tenor man has principally been associated with Polar Bear, those champions of skittish alternative jazzelectro sounds. In the 1980s, though, he established his reputation as a member of big band Loose Tubes, those recently re-united masters of organized anarchy. This was followed by Perfect Houseplants in the 1990s. The pieces that have sprung out of Lockheart's Ellington In Anticipation project (and accompanying 2013 album on Subtone Records) could be deemed reincarnations, rejuvenations or re-jiggings of those hallowed Duke works. So much so, that some of them are not even immediately recognizable as being their originators, at least not until some minutes into a given reading.

This gig assembled the entire original recording personnel, with Lockheart joined by Polar Bear's drummer-leader Sebastian Rochford, bassist Tom Herbert, pianist Liam Noble, alto saxophonist Finn Peters (with occasional flute), clarinetist James Allsopp and violist Margrit Hasler. This is an ensemble that resides in the mid-ground between small group and orchestra, armed with a sufficient palette to evoke Ellington, yet compact enough to focus terse soloing energies.

Even though this gig was quite well attended, given the extreme paucity of jazz shows in York played by out-of-towners, it was disappointing that it wasn't sold out, as is often the case with the NCEM's global music inclined performances. The pickings in town are so slim here that non-York combos appear only a handful of times during the year. These scarce opportunities ought to be seized with more enthusiasm by potential attendees.

As a result of his previous appearance in this converted church, Lockheart elected to perform in acoustic fashion, apart from a pair of small amplifiers for viola and bass. "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" was an easy ramble into the terrain, but still nevertheless re-structured into a post-bebop, almost-free jazz abstraction, a flight that could suddenly hit the ground, skidding and trouncing along with an earthy momentum. The progress of "Caravan" was much trickier, only alighting on its familiar melody towards the climax. Although Lockheart has arranged these diversions, he makes their genesis sound completely organic and spontaneous. The band has developed a deep rapport by now, seamlessly throwing solos to each other, taking up the riff-slack once their own spotlight run has concluded. Or perhaps paused for contemplation, before bursting into flames once again. A softly-spoken "Come Sunday" glided into "Satin Doll," which became "Jungle Lady" under the Lockheart quill, another moderately radical re-christening. Its twin saxophone blow-out was a highlight of the evening, sublimely followed by a cooling bass clarinet solo. "Azure" was given a 1920s period sheen, even though it was composed a decade later than that, whilst a pointillist "Take The A Train" managed to rocket off into a near jazz-funk zone, with Lockheart delivering a juicy tenor solo. "I'm Beginning To See The Light" appeared to twist into "Wade In The Water," then "Mood Indigo" manifested itself as a bassy tribal rumpus. This band could just as engagingly apply their unique approach to further jazz masters, but for now, there's still an abundance of hidden glitter to be mined within those deeply sumptuous, velvet-lined Ellington shafts.

King Courgette
The Friargate Theatre
May 2, 2014

Here we had a bunch of presumed Yorkshiremen pretending to be sons of the Appalachian mountains, simultaneously struggling with an urgently acquired Frenchness. It was the launch of the French Fries performance season to herald the coming of the transposed Tour De France to these parts, and the band's selection could just about be deemed justified when the chaps pelted into their clutch of Louisiana Cajun numbers. Down on the Clifton Delta, identities had been vigorously shaken into a vegetable smoothie, in the name of a night's fun hoe-down. Stylistically, King Courgette skilfully hopped between bluegrass, jazz, blues, skiffle and all manner of sub-graftings between these genres. It was American music viewed through rebellious English eyes, where all styles were equally ripe for harvest.

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