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Phil Meadows' Standard: Leeds, UK, April 24, 2010

Alex J Watson By

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Phil Meadows' Standard
Toast Bar
Leeds, UK
April 24, 2010

Saxophonist Phil Meadows is a rising star of the UK jazz scene. Benchmark performances such as his appearance at Manchester Jazz festival last year, along with various accolades, including winner of LIMA Bands Competition 2008, have helped kick start the career of the young Chethams School of Music graduate. Unveiling his new group Standard, at Toast bar in Leeds, Meadows—who is best know for leading groups playing his own compositions—promised a night of "tunes that you will recognize, but not how you know them."

Armed with both alto and soprano saxophones, and an effects board, Meadows was joined by a new line up of keyboard player Louis Peakall, double bassist Maxwell Sterling, and drummer Stephen "Chief" Hanley—a band of players all in their early twenties, all relatively new faces on the northern scene. Meadows announced the first piece of the evening, a played-to-death real book standard by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Launching immediately into and dark, yet energetic groove led by Sterling's pulsating bass ostinato and Hanley's intricate drum patterns, the first notes of a twisted, and almost entirely re-composed rendition of "The Girl from Ipanema" immediately changed the atmosphere in the modern inner-city venue. The reharmonized and unresolving sounds of a vamp created a tense landscape whilst Meadow's alto soared above, changing the usually summery bossa nova, into something way more sinister. Peakall's burnt-out Rhodes sound, and an uncommonly warm English evening, added to the mirage—the resulting feel during his extended keyboard solo evoked In A Silent Way. New chord movement in the B-section of the tune gave release, however momentarily.

Peakall began the second standard of the evening with a spacey intro, filled with lush piano voicings and a soft touch. "Satin Doll" was again given a new chord sequence, but in comparison to what preceded—a far sweeter tact—the arrangement exploiting simplicity and space. The piece kept building slowly, and a deliberately delayed entry from Sterling's bass really added to the effect with an uplifting line. Flurries of notes escaped from Meadows alto amidst longer drawn out and reflective phrases. His textural use of a delay pedal and looping added to the soundscape, and the result was left to loop as the ending for the piece. Meadows' recent fixations with effects pedals is probably due in part to the influence of Cinematic Orchestra guitarist, Stuart McCallum, with whom he has recently gigged with at Matt and Phred's Jazz club in Manchester.

All players were interesting to watch, particularly Meadows' trademark—kneading from foot to foot, eyes closed—displayed at its best during his soprano solo on Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly." Peakall, who has a great affinity with the Hancock repertoire also showed his flair with an impressive solo before linking up his left hand with Sterling (who had swapped to electric bass) to create a riff over which Hanley also showed his chops.

"Nardis" by Bill Evans, was the most standard of the standards played—with little trickery or major changes to the original version. Sterling's performance was of note—his beautifully crafted lines through the changes kept each chorus feeling fresh each time. His playing impressive, and even more so as he had only just returned from Scotland that same day, after a marathon 13-hour cross-arts performance—The Darktown Cakewalk by Linder—at Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts.

When bands choose to play sets from the real book repertoire, often the intent is to exclusively showcase virtuosity, striving to play songs faster and harder than before. Meadows, a musician who is certainly confident of his own stage presence, and with a formidable band aside him, could have easily taken this approach. Instead, and admirably, he chose to explore a more introspective and humble side of his playing, experimenting by creating soundscapes and playing with the limits of the compositions. The band's namesake is really more of a pun in reference to how non-standard the arrangements really were.

The limits were certainly pushed on "Kind Folk"—a piece originally by Kenny Wheeler and the least standard choice of the evening—as it was daringly re-presented with a busy drum and bass tinged groove. It wasn't the most successful choice but did have its high points showcasing Hanley's technical ability.

Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints" was a satisfying finale, with an arrangement inspired by Terence Blanchard's lively recording from Bounce (Blue Note, 2003). Over a punchy groove all members let loose, Meadows using the full range of his alto, honking punctuation over Hanley's hip hop influenced beats. Again Peakall seemed a home, playing stunningly fast lines, his Herbie Hancock influence coming through strong. It was also great to see a much awaited bass solo from Sterling, who despite understandable fatigue, proved himself a great melody-maker too.

It was an impressive night of music at one of Leeds' most recently jazz-friendly venues—there were some unrefined moments, but from a band so young, and on their debut gig together, they displayed a maturity and cohesion that seemed far ahead of their years.

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