Blow into 2014 in style!

Trombonist Tom Green’Septet came to the Forge on Tuesday on the back of a winter tour, the leader garlanded by the award of the 2013 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition, this complemented by praise from none other than Dame Cleo Laine herself. With a packed venue and a young, enthusiastic crowd, expectations were running high and rightly so as Green’s men, mostly current or past Royal Academy students and supplemented by guest tenorist Iain Ballamy, delivered a programme largely based on the leader’s own compositions. In effect, writing was king, Green’s liking for densely-plotted outcomes calling for concentration and the kind of dynamic interplay that might mark out a contemporary concert group. Indeed, there was a sense here at times of a graduate recital, brows furrowed in concentration.

Green likes his pieces to open quietly, one instrument with another, as on his ‘Peace of Mind’ before allowing the ensemble to plunge in, using complex voicings amid dense musical foliage, the solos quite contained and often solemn. On this basis, it was hard at first to evaluate his players’ solo capabilities, Green’s own trombone supple and rich-toned but never quite breaking free from the bonds of these pieces. Trumpeter James Davison was note-perfect and spot-on throughout the compositional ebb-and flow, drummer Scott Chapman keeping the ship on course whatever the musical weather. Reasonably enough, Ballamy was seldom at a loss, his characteristic push-and-pull tenor style well in evidence, even if his through-composed original ‘Floaters’ seemed dirge-like and portentous.

As so often happens, Green and company appeared more relaxed post-interval, smiles replacing frowns, these later pieces opening up more, with Ballamy’s ‘Veg Gary’ (his tribute to a market-trader friend), prompting pianist Sam Watts (definitely a player to watch) to unleash some darkly funky harmonies ahead of Ballamy’s own vibrant solo, the band clearly relishing the zigzag lines of the piece. Green’s ‘Equilibrium’ followed, complete with its Iberian allusions and the band began to fly, paced by Chapman’s fine drumming. The final ‘D.I.Y.’ was altogether more cheerful, hinting at the Dirty Dozen’s collective style, hosted by Chapman’s second-line drum moves and great walking bass from Misha Mullov-Abbado. So a game of two halves perhaps: more light and less reverence in the second half making for a rewarding evening’s music. There’s promise aplenty here.

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