The December session at Harborough Jazz featured singer Andra Sparks, along with a group led by her partner Nick Weldon on piano. They brought with them Steve Waterman on trumpet; Steve Watts on bass and Dylan Howe on drums, a new formation for Andra and one which worked well. A longtime favourite with Harborough fans, Andra treated them to an interesting selection of songs over two sets with arrangements which gave plenty of room for the group to solo.
Andra started off with a nice version of I Thought About You, which featured solos all round. She followed this up with Bob Dorough’s Small Day Tomorrow, which also featured some Steve Waterman trumpet backing her. A bossa sounding out his drum number came next and then a lovely Kenny Wheeler tune Wintersweet, with words by Norma Winstone, a tune which showed off Andra at her best. The band was let free on a untitled bossa style number which showcased both Steve Waterman’s trumpet as well as the other Steve (Watts) with a fine bass solo and Dylan Howe sounding out his drum kit! The set finished with Norma doing a version of Monk’s Monk’s Dream, using the words by Jon Hendricks. Nick Weldon played a great un-Monk like solo!
Suitably refreshed, Andra gave us a great interpretation of the classic Love For Sale, capturing well the sadder side of this song. She continued with a version of the Randy Weston/Jon Hendricks tune Little Niles, written for Weston’s son. Nick Weldon demonstrated not only his solo abilities but also his good accompanying skills on this one. Shortly after we were treated to Andra asking us to Teach Me Tonight, which also featured a very good Steve Waterman solo. She pleased this reviewer by choosing to sing a song associated with the late Shirley Horn, giving us a fine version of Here’s To Life. She closed the set with another Bob Dorough tune, Devil May Care, which gave the rest of the group a good chance to solo. The audience would not let her go without an encore – so Andra signed off with a gentle version of Moonlight in Vermont, which then allowed those present to wander off home having enjoyed a fine session of singing and playing. MG
HOWARD ALDEN QUARTET AT HARBOROUGH JAZZ.
Harborough Jazz welcomed American guitarist Howard Alden on Sunday 16th October, along with Olly Wilby on tenor sax, Simon Woolf on bass and Joe Dessauer on drums. As one of the top modern mainstream guitarists, Howard Alden more than lived up to expectations at what was an early session in his brief UK visit. He had not played with Olly for some five years and never with drummer Joe, but this omission didn’t faze Alden or indeed the rest of the group.
Alden has been in the business for over 35 years and has played with most of the great modern mainstream musicians such as tenor players Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen and Ken Peplowski, as well as clarinetist Kenny Davern and cornetists Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Howard is a fine soloist, rhythm guitarist and plays a seven string instrument so can produce bass lines as and when he wants or needs them. And he did show off all his skills in a programme which covered a range of standards, a couple of Latin American numbers (a bossa and a samba) and which took us back to the 30s with a swinging version of Ellington’s Jubilee Stomp – a tune unknown to drummer Joe, but with which he more than coped! Howard threw in a couple of vocals as well, showing a good sense of time, but it was his guitar playing which was the strong point of the two sets. Regardless of whatever tune he or Olly called, he produced interesting solos every time, but using his rhythm skills to support other soloists in turn. Most tunes featured each of the other members of the group in turn. Olly produced a series of fine solos with a tone which showed echoes of Lester Young and Ben Webster, Simon Woolf on bass always kept excellent time, played several good solos and had some very fine interplay with drummer Joe, who also managed to rattle the skins when it was his solo turn.
All in all an excellent gig, one clearly enjoyed by the large audience. At the end this reviewer was left with the feeling that Howard Alden could play any tune with any musician at any time, and always produce interesting solos – not something one can say about too many musicians! MG