Chris Laurence Quartet
1000 Trades, 16 Frederick Street, Birmingham, B1 3HE
8th September 2017
Words & Photo: Alan Musson
The new season at a new venue for Birmingham Jazz opened in barnstorming fashion with a comparatively rare appearance by the Chris Laurence Quartet. The Quartet have existed on a semi-permanent basis for some years now as their 2007 release, ‘New View’ testifies. Indeed, the musical association between bassist Laurence and vibraphone-player Frank Ricotti goes back even further. Check out ‘Our Point of View’ from 1969 or the hard-to-find Frank Ricotti/ Michael Albuquerque Jazz-Rock offering ‘First Wind’ from 1971.
Laurence and Ricotti’s musical companions for tonight’s gig were John Parricelli on guitar and Martin France at the drums. Both France and Parricelli were one-time members of the famed Loose Tubes big band in the 1980’s. France has also worked in Symphony Orchestras around the world as well as pioneering the use of electronic and sequenced drums and percussion. Parricelli has long since proved his jazz credentials working with the likes of Norma Winstone, Lee Konitz, Andy Sheppard and Colin Towns and in other areas of music with Mike Oldfield, M People and Judy Tzuke and, as a session musician on many film and TV scores.
From the opening cadences of ‘Falling Grace’, a tune written by fellow bassist Steve Swallow, it was apparent that a very special musical feast was in store for the near capacity audience. Throughout the night the emphasis was on melodic musical interaction with the musicians almost breathing as one, clearly comfortable in each other’s company.
All of the musicians have been worked with a who’s who of jazz musicians as well as building careers as session musicians, a path which Ricotti has followed since the mid 1980’s. His discography includes recording ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ with Status Quo. Possibly, this concentration on session work has deprived jazz audiences of the chance to see him in a live jazz environment more often.
This is almost a repertory quartet in that they preserve the compositions of the British jazz greats, some, like Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, no longer with us. But thanks to these musicians the music of these masters is able to live on in refreshing new arrangements.
The enthusiasm of a clearly knowledgeable audience was equalled by the enthusiasm of the quartet, accompanied by the engaging stage presence of the leader.
The repertoire included an involving and quite complex sounding composition from saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, ‘Jack Stix’ and only one standard popular song in the form of Cole Porter’s ‘Everything I Love’. Along the way were songs which have almost become modern-day British jazz classics. From Wheeler, tunes included ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’, ‘Mark Time’, ‘The Imminent Immigrant’ and ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ and from John Taylor the lovely ‘Between Moons’ was a particular highlight. There was also a timely tribute to the late guitarist John Abercrombie from the pen of John Surman. As an encore, they played yet another of Wheeler’s affecting compositions ‘The Long Waiting’.
It clearly helps that these musicians have such a musical affinity with each other and a shared love of the music of Kenny Wheeler in particular, all having worked for him at some point in their careers.
It’s fascinating to reflect upon the fact that jazz is just a part of what these men do in music. All are accomplished session musicians and Laurence maintains a dual career in both jazz and classical music. At one point he was principal double bass with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Orchestra.