Jean Toussaint


Jean Toussaint at Ronnie Scott's

One might legitimately expect saxophonist Jean Toussaint to talk – as he did in a short interview last night – with legitimacy, authority and clarity about the time he spent as a Jazz Messenger with Art Blakey, and to bring that period and that unique experience and privileged vantage point back to life. One might anticipate, when Toussaint then played the music, that some of those same attributes would be bound to come across too. But the context of a mostly young audience, the presence on stage with him of great players who are about the same age he was as was in Blakey’s band, the inspiration of six Wayne Shorter compositions which have never suffered the fate of being over-played and over-workshopped… all this brought out a lot more besides in him. This was a gig which was clearly bringing him joy from start to finish, he seemed somehow re-vitalised, energised, rejuvenated, and that infectious sense of things being competely right was working on us as an audience too. To quote Richard Williams from a 2014 in another context…. “there were long stretches of time during the evening when I found myself wondering why I would ever bother to listen to anything else.”

The first source of that inspiration was the young musicians around Toussaint. The trumpeter alongside him (it was Lee Morgan on the album) was Mark Kavuma. There were several moments to treasure, notably an extended open-ended dialoguing outro to the opening number Ping Pong, with the lead and the front foot changing back and forth, the phrases getting shorter, longer, shorter again. It was one of those moments when you know something of great quality is being created right in front of you – it’s so often easy to take that spontaneity and reactiveness for granted.

Bassist Daniel Casimir was noticed and singled out on this site by Jon Turney way back in 2012 when he was still a student (HERE), and he is now going places. When solo-ing he sometimes goes for simplicity and rootsiness, by which he earned and received loud applause. I also enjoyed his way with heavy vibrato of getting notes to really speak and ring out forcefully. The drum chair was taken by Femi Koleoso. He has a clever way of steadily building the big solo from a state in which he looks virtually asleep, with his head flopped to the side as if looking for a pillow, but then developing engagement and pace and energy. Again, an irresistible force. PianistAshley Henry is a fluent soloist, but he had his work cut out last night on a small upright. However, he will have an opportunity to be heard to good advantage in a gig coming up in the Ronnie Scott’s International Piano Festival.

Mark Kavuma, Jean Toussaint, Daniel Casimir
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

The owners of Brilliant Corners set out their stall as follows: ”To accompany delicious and down-to-earth food and drinks, we have music selectors playing vinyl records every night of the week on our world class audiophile soundsystem.” The venue is very accessible by Overground and buses, and there is masses of parking all around.The room has comfortable upright chairs, superb and silent air conditioning, and a mostly young, and always responsive audience. This original idea has developed further into the “Played Twice” format, which has now been going for 9-10 months, and in which one of the restaurant’s co-owners Amit Patel has been working in collaboration with Quentin Collins, who “co-curates.”

The formula is first to listen to an entire original jazz album, in the dark, with audiophile-quality sound. Phone use is actively discouraged rather than forbidden – it seemed to work better. Then there was a Q and A about the album with restaurant owner Amit Patel, who does a great job making the music more accessible. Then a ten minute break, and some kind of re-creation of the album. It is a very clever set-up indeed, and last night it worked particularly well for the Jazz Messengers album Roots and Herbs, which Toussaint is currently doing in different contexts. The album was recorded in 1961, but didn’t get released until 1970. It consists entirely of compositions by Wayne Shorter.

I regret not having sampled the Brilliant Corners Played Twice formula before during this first year of its existence. It feels like an ideal way to get to know music at close quarters and in the midst of an  appreciative and responsive audience. This must be a candidate for gig of the year.

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