The Ben Crosland Quintet @ The Albany Club, Coventry

The Ben Crosland Quintet plays “The Ray Davies Songbook”
The Albany Club, Earlsdon, Coventry, CV5 6EG
Thursday 5th December 2019

This was my first visit to The Albany Club and it was pleasing to see the club room already almost full to capacity upon my arrival. Due to personal circumstances, Ben was forced to postpone his original appearance which was planned for earlier in the year. This was one night of jazz that I had been looking forward to for a long time.

Indeed, my appetite had been further whetted by the arrival of a second volume of Ray Davies compositions earlier this Spring. The music of Ray Davies is not at first an obvious vehicle for jazz, however, Ben Crosland has been a fan of the man and his music since his teenage years. It is Crosland’s unique and inspired arrangements which bring the songs to life, although Ben will modestly claim that it is the musicians in the Quintet who do this and certainly the choice of instrumentalist is crucial to the success of the project.

The musicians on stage playing for Coventry Jazz were a slightly different line-up to that on the albums with Dylan Howe in for Sebastian De Krom on drums and Theo Travis replacing Dave O’Higgins on tenor and soprano saxophones. Alongside Travis in the front line was the formidable John Etheridge on guitars, with Steve Lodder on keyboard, both regular band members and with Crosland leading from behind anchoring the group with his beautifully crafted playing on bass guitar.

From the opening bars of the first song, for that is what they certainly are, the audience had a collective smile on their faces. The material was familiar being some of the most memorable popular songs of the last century and during an evening packed with great music we were treated to versions of ‘All Day and All of the Night’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Tired of Waiting for You’, ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and the lesser-known ‘David Watts’. In Crosland’s hands, these songs stand up well even without their lyrics which is a testament to the leader’s arranging skills and the first-rate musicians that he had chosen to work with. For me, hearing this music live is even more exciting than listening to the albums, which have become required listening at home. Travis somehow seemed to add something extra to the proceedings bringing an additional intensity to the music and inspiring Etheridge to even greater heights than can be heard on the album. Clearly, the duos long and enduring partnership in the UK avant/jazz-rock band Soft Machine helps. They had been working with that very band just the previous week in the Netherlands. It is Crosland’s inspired writing for the saxophone and guitar which makes these such very special music.

If you were unable to catch the Ben Crosland Quintet in Coventry, make sure not to miss them when they return to the Midlands playing for Stratford Jazz on 25th March and Birmingham Jazz on 27th March 2020.
Failing that you can purchase the albums at https://www.jazz-cat.com/cd-shop

Alan Musson

Astral Travelling Since 1993