Charlie Parker on Dial Septet – Watermill Jazz, Dorking.

By Mark Youll | 18th June, 2014 | gig reviews, reviews, Uncategorized |

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As this stylish unit gathered on stage, and the tinny din of an old Oscar Peterson record was promptly faded out on the house P.A, it was questionable what grabbed the hall's attention first: drummer Moses Boyd's crisp, sock-style hi-hat intro to 'Ornithology', or the band's natty suits. Whatever it was merely lit the fuse to a two hour show that packed in twenty-plus of the forty-plus tunes Charlie Parker recorded for the Dial label between 1946 and '47. Each one freshly re-arranged and informatively introduced by pianist Alex Webb, and brought to life by a crack band fronted by the "man with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders", altoist Nathaniel Facey.

“A more-than-befitting tribute to Bird, performed by a band as razor-sharp as those suits.”

From the get-go the show swung hard throughout, but the first set was noteworthy in that it rolled out most of Bird’s biggies first. ‘Ornithology’ was tailed by the ever-seductive sax melody to ‘A Night in Tunisia’ which, over a clattering cowbell and tribal tom-tom rumba lick from Boyd, snaked across the beat in unison with trumpeter Freddie Gavita.

Completing the line-up was Alex Davis on double bass, and guitarist Jo Calee, who lent a heavy, finger-picked solo to the swing section to ‘Tunisia’ before resuming his light rhythm duties over house-favourites ‘Moose the Mooch’ and ‘The Gypsy’. The latter was a lush ballad that heard Facey shine, effortlessly emulating the sluggish and breathy style on Parker’s original, to mesmerising effect.

While most focus fell on Facey, whistles and applause greeted solos from the whole band. Boyd, who for the bulk of the gig was satisfied to simply sit back and swing, dug his heels into ‘Cool Blues’, breaking out triplet licks around the kit with whipcrack accuracy, before laying an infectious second-line-style march under Davis during a bluesy ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’.

‘Dexterity’ (similar to ‘Moose’ in that its melody is stitched to the changes of Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’) brought some equally-potent playing from Allen and Webb. Trading fours and flexing their bop chops over the tune’s busy theme, they remained fixed on Boyd’s quarter-note ride pulse, which would drive them home, and eventually into a sassier ‘Scrapple from the Apple’.

Playing a more mellow Miles than blazing Diz to Facey’s Bird, Gavita blew well throughout, particularly in unison with the saxophonist, or over sweet muted-horn ballads like ‘Old Flame’. But he often lacked the fire and conviction high-energy numbers such as ‘Quasimodo’ or ‘Crazyology’ demanded, struggling sometimes to cut through such ruthless accompaniment, especially when soloing.

All in all though, Weber’s gig to honour Parker proved a continuously exuberant ride. From the side of the stage, when not occupied in his position tonight as leader, pianist and tell-all-tale-spinner, Webb resembled a proud dad, smiling, as he surveyed the fine young talent he’d brought together for this show. A more-than-befitting tribute to Bird, performed by a band as razor-sharp as those suits.

Mark Youll.
Photo by Jon Frost
Originally published on the Jazzwise website, May 2014.