Watermill Jazz 20th Anniversary Concert with Derek Nash and Sax Appeal

By Mark Youll | 8th April, 2014 | gig reviews, reviews |

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In from the rain outside, and anticipation was high amongst members and guests pouring into the club's softly-lit hall for the grand unveiling of "The Phoenix Suite" - a new piece by leading saxophonist Derek Nash, commissioned by the club to celebrate their twentieth birthday.

As a regular visitor to this, and the club's original venue (which closed due to fire damage in 2001), the hiring of Nash for this bash was a no brainer. He spoke warmly about his double decade-long liaison with the club, and the honour of been asked to prepare such a piece, before counting his seven-strong, brass-heavy band into the first of a few numbers from his latest Funkerdeen album, as warm up for the suite.

“When not centre stage, Nash was in the sidelines, cheering on these fine soloists, or blowing some of his own slick soprano licks into the mix.”

A player as renowned for his soulful kick as his countless credits, Nash threw his all into this show. When not centre stage, flanked by Scott Garland on alto, Bob McKay on baritone (and flute) and “top tenors” Brandon and Simon Allen, he was in the sidelines, cheering on these fine soloists, or blowing some of his own slick soprano licks into the mix

As active at the back, laying down beats thick enough to bust through all the brass, drummer Mike Bradley exercised crisp, orderly funk chops over samba jam ‘Seville’, before muscling his way into a fuzz-distortion and Clavinet clash between bassist Phil Scragg and Pete Adams on piano – ‘Walking on Air’.

But it was the suite itself that brought out the best from this band. Against a pin-drop hush around the hall, the first of its three themes, ‘Spark’, flickered into life with faint flute, and a creeping staccato piano figure (signifying the fire that swept through the original venue), slowly uncoiling into a busy, top-tempo swing ( the arrival of emergency services), ablaze with scurrying , high-register horn squeals (distinguishing the flames). A more restrained brushes and lazy bass feel to fit “Ghosts” (the aftermath of the fire) followed , see-sawing between fragments of familiar standards played on syrupy baritone (echoes of past performers), and a hauntingly beautiful solo from Nash.

To complete the suite, Bradley, Scragg and Adams worked up (and then worked around) a vivacious calypso-style groove that not only managed to communicate the ‘Celebration’ part of the piece (the re-building and continued success of the club), but uphold the force of five horns tearing through as many key signatures as jazz genres, before skidding to a tight stop.

Stand-up shouts for more gave way to a couple of encores – the silky smooth ‘Here With Me’ and rousing boogie-woogier “Sticky Finger Boogie” – but Nash and his crack band had already delivered the goods. A jamboree rattling with energy, sentiment and cheer. Everything the club called for.

Mark Youll

Photo by Jon Frost

www.watermilljazz.co.uk