Chatting to Tony Kofi over the years at gigs mainly at Birmingham Jazz I discovered that he grew up on Rosetta Road in Nottingham which is the road my wife lived in not long after I first met her. And this record is a true Rosetta Stone – it translates the music of or in the style of Cannonball Adderley into a hugely enjoyable and listenable session of post-bop and jazz-funk goodness.
And it does something else; it demonstrates in these straightened and locked-down times the sometimes under-estimated pleasure and accessibility of smaller jazz clubs. At a concert or larger venue or the bigger jazz festivals, you don’t often get the opportunity to interact with musicians and find out things in common with them or more about their approach and direction.
This set was recorded at one such club – The Bear in Luton. And it is clear from the well-balanced recording that, when audience reaction can be heard, that this was one of those special jazz club nights with audience and players feeding off each other. By well-balanced, I mean that the recording is not only very good for a live one, but the mix is clever with enough ambient sound and just enough reaction but not too much, so your listening is not interrupted or disrupted.
Often, way back when, live recordings could be very self-indulgent but from the opening track this is tight and to the point. It’s not clear if the tracks were played completely in this order at the gig but, given that the total running time is around 40 minutes, I guess the usual two live sets were edited to fit onto the special issue vinyl which is the only physical version of the release.
The issued play sequence features Adderley’s style in a roughly chronological way kicked off with a couple of originals. The opener ‘A Portrait of Cannonball’ is written by the pianist Alex Webb and is a concise re-creation which starts as a funky ensemble homage to the later work and then as Kofi starts his extensive solo on alto moves into lyrical ballad territory. With barely a pause the band move into the other original ‘Operation Breadbasket’ by Kofi himself. This is an effective up-tempo bop workout which features Andy Davies on trumpet with nicely shaped solo.
‘Another Kind of Soul’ is by Cannonball’s brother the trumpeter Nat Adderley and is another boppish tune with a strong solo from Kofi followed by concise contributions from Davies and Webb. We are back in ballad mode for the only standard on the recording – ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ with Kofi in typically fine expressive form against Andrew Cleyndert’s strolling bass and Alfonso Vitale’s brush and cymbals work. The latter two are on good form throughout providing a strong rhythmic feel.
The final three tracks are all by Julian Cannonball Adderley himself, the medium tempo swinger ‘Things Are Getting Better’ followed by the two tracks that no Adderley fan can do without – ‘Sack O’Woe’ and the encore, of course, ‘Work Song’. Things feature a screaming but tasteful solo from Kofi and a contrastingly sweet one from Webb. Cleyndert gets a vibrant solo feature on this too. As Kofi says in introducing Sack –“you know what that means – blues!” and it kicks along led by another punchy trademark solo sculpted by Kofi exploring the alto’s range.
Both this and the closer Work Song are the kind of tunes that are so well known that it’s hard to draw the line between too much reverence and wanting to re-invent them – but both are done beautifully, getting the balance just right.
What a night it must have been one I would have been happy to attend. Sadly the tour associated with this record has understandably been postponed and who knows when we will get a chance to hear this music again live.
In the meantime, if you want to get a bit of the feel of a live small gig this is the closest you will get on record. It is unusual that it’s physically only being issued in limited edition vinyl. The notes say this is “the medium of Adderley’s era – to best replicate the ambience of this live recording.” It will also be available in digital formats but no CD version.
I’m hoping the lockdown will be over by 11th September so I can catch the band at Birmingham Jazz.