Tony Kofi’s Sphinx Trio @ Vortex Jazz Bar

Tony Kofi’s Sphinx Trio Live @ Vortex Jazz Bar 12th February 2016


Photo: Courtesy of Steven Cropper

Tony Kofi has been an ardent supporter and admirer of fellow saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s distinctive timbre and sound ever since he discovered the now dearly departed purveyor of Free Jazz’s music. In the latter years of Coleman’s life Tony was proud to call him mentor and friend, so any opportunity afforded him to pay homage to the legendary hornsman is welcome enthusiastically by Mr Kofi. Friday, 12 February 2016 at Vortex Jazz Bar was the date and place that Tony Kofi via his Sphinx Trio got to pay homage to his close friend and inspiration, who sadly passed away in June 2015.

In order to pay full and proper respect to his memory and honour to Mr Coleman appropriately Kofi brought on board two of his close friends and heavyweight musicians and band leaders in their own right. Drummer Rod Youngs has a resume which stretches as far back playing alongside Musician, Wordsmith, Poet, Rapper and Social Commentator Gil Scott-Heron as part of Gil’s boundary stretching Amnesia Express band. Double Bass player, Larry Bartley has been a long time stalwart on the UK Jazz scene and has more than paid his dues honing his craft and own indistinguishable playing style in venues across the UK and Europe..


Photo: Courtesy of Steven Cropper

As Sphinx the Trio have been playing together intermittently for quite some time now and the intuition and understanding between the three was evident from the outset. After a brief intro from Vortex host Oliver and Tony himself, the trio launched into a blistering rendition of Ornette’s ‘The Turnaround’ with its familiar refrain. Immediately the tone was set for an evening of pure Jazz. Kofi has a compact, fluid and controlled style when playing the saxophone. The urgency of his attack is compelling, transfixing even. Highlights of the first set included ‘Jayne’ a tune dedicated to Coleman’s wife of ten years Jayne Cortez who was a prominent, poet, activist, spoken-word performer and more in her own right, ‘Beauty Is A Rare Thing’ and ‘Free’ in which drummer Rod Youngs offered up an impassioned drum solo on the skins utilising the drumsticks and the palms of his hands to the maximum. At one point his hands and arms became a mesmerising blur as he upped the tempo markedly before reverting back to a more sedate and smoothed out shuffle style.

Set 2 began with the same high intensity and accomplished musicianship. ‘Mary Hartman Mary Hartman’ segued seamlessly into one of Ornette Coleman’s most widely recognised tunes ‘Lonely Woman’. The appreciative audience were treated to a sympathetic and even paced double bass solo from the musicians’ musician Larry Bartley, who as with Tony Kofi earlier kept the audience riveted as the deep bass twangs from his sturdy upright bass resonated around the confines of the Intimate venue. Kofi himself then took up the reins to lay down a blistering solo, eyes closed and barely pausing for breath as he drew on the essence and spirit of his mentor Mr O.C.


Photo: Courtesy of Steven Cropper

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the Trio brought forth a sublime version of ‘Peace’ which saw Rod Youngs transferring to his drum/Jazz brushes and Larry Bartley picking up his double bass bow. Kofi himself did not change saxophone’s but he did up shift with regard to the passion and power of his playing, straining every sinew of his body and rinsing out every high, mid and low pitched note from his burnished horn which glistened under the tungsten lights. The elongated applause at the end of the tune from those gathered was proof positive that they fully recognised and appreciated the high energy output of the trio. ‘Face Of The Bass’ put the spotlight squarely onto Larry Bartley for an enriching nine minute solo…before his cohorts rejoined for the outro. Two more free-flowing Coleman compositions rounded out what according to overall punter feedback and even the sound engineer Ali was one of the best nights of Jazz music they had witnessed at Vortex Jazz Bar. Methinks The Sphinx Trio will be invited back in the very near future.

Michael J Edwards


Photo: Courtesy of Steven Cropper