Tuesday saw the tribute to Ian Carr, who died last year. It gathered together musicians who had worked with Carr in various bands from the 1950s on, playing his music.
It was an eclectic evening, reflecting the depth of Carr’s interests and influence – he was an educator and writer as well as a player (he wrote one of the definitive biographies of Miles Davis, and I attended a big band workshop he ran once in Edinburgh about ten years ago).
Julian Joseph was the compere for the first half, and he spoke warmly of Carr’s influence on him through regular weekend music schools. Then Nikki Yeoh took to the satge and played a couple of pieces she dedicated to Carr. These pieces seemed a little knowing – deliberately complex in their form, lots of changes in tempo – but they held the audience’s attention.
Then came the Michael Garrick sextet, featuring musicians who had played with Carr in the 1950s and 1960s. Garrick was the pianist in the seminal Don Rendell/Ian Carr quintet, and Rendell himself came up for a few numbers at the end of the set. Rendell looked quite old (he must be in his seventies) as he walked on stage, but with his saxophone playing he could have been one of the young turks – the music sounded fresh and contemporary.
There was a clean simplicity to many of the numbers; at one point, Garrick accompanied a poet with a simple two chord backing, before the band came in to fill the sound out. Norma Winstone sang to several tunes; normally I don’t get jazz vocals, but here her words fitted perfectly. Dave Green on bass held it together really well: there was a solidity to his playing.
This was a great set, summing up the post-bop milieu of the band’s 1960s heyday. Henry Lowther took the trumpet chair, doing justice to Carr’s memory.
After the interval, Kevin Whately – perhaps better known as Inspector Lewis – spoke about Carr’s connection to north east England, before Guy Barker on trumpet and Tim Whitehead on reeds were joine by a string orchestra to play Carr’s Northumbrian Sketches. This suite was superlative. Normally, I don’t like strings in jazz: too many syrupy, sentimental arrangements. This suite is one of the exceptions. There was nothing sentimental here: the arrangements merged the two disciplines of jazz and strings exceptionally. Barker’s playing was excellent, as was Whitehead. The suite seemed magnificent: the writing had depth and subtlety, creating a spiritual mood of remembrance. There is a real folk feel to some sections, the strings at times producing sounds reminiscent of the northumbrian pipes. It was a wonderful performance.
After the sketches, Nucleus seemed a little – well, ordinary. This was not what I had been expecting: I have several Nucleus disks, and ordinary isn’t the way I’d describe them. Carr was one of the innovators who created jazz-rock, but unlike any of the other music in the evening, this sounded rather dated. The performance was good – the playing seemed fine – but a bit of a let down after what had preceded.
Until, that is, John Marshall came on for the last half of the set. His playing seemed to energise the others in the band, and suddenly they were playing better: they all stepped up several gears. Nic France, who moved from drums to percussion when Marshall arrived, had been doing a great job – but Marshall just propelled the band into a different league. They seemed like a different band. The last few numbers powered along, pushed by Marshall’s excellent drumming. The evening ended on a yet another high.
photo © Roger Farbey, from Ian Carr + Nucleus Website