The Spin Jazz Club is a bit of an Oxford institution. Every Thursday at 8.30pm, the upstairs room of the Wheatsheaf is laid with gingham-clad tables, the lights are dimmed, and a Jazz legend of some description entertains with two hours of smooth music. This week, it was acclaimed trumpetter Damon Brown who graced the Wheatsheaf with his clean sounds and swung beats. He was joined by the Spin Trio, who regularly accompany the guest musicians at the club.
The night started with a boogie-woogie style piece which showcased Damon Brown's musicality. His playing is low-key but accomplished; he doesn't use gimmicks to show off his evident skills. They speak for themselves. All of his decisions are musical and he keeps the beat impeccably. It's the sort of jazz which appeals to a layperson like myself. I can appreciate jazz only when it still feels like music for a listener - sometimes I find it feels like the only person enjoying it is the musician themselves. Damon Brown is not such a jazz musician; his playing is lyrical. His improvisation feels like it has a solid foundation underpinning the spontaneity. We are in safe hands and his sound has the sort of comfort in it which is welcome in this bitter weather we've been having. I felt at home listening to him. He also sang to us for one song: 'When Sonny Gets Blue'. His voice is husky; it wafts gently across the accompaniment. It is not as confident a performance as his trumpet playing. In fact, a comparison of his vocal performance and that of his trumpet is fruitful in that although the tonal quality of the two sounds is very different, there is a common calm control which shines through.
The house band provided Damon with a strong base of support. Mark Doffman on the drums kept the group's timing together with an unobstrusive rhythmic accompaniment when they were all playing together, but showed wild arhythmic flair in his surprising solos. Raph Mizraki on the bass performed his solos beautifully; they were melodic and the tone of his bass was like melted dark chocolate. Pete Oxley on the guitar compered the evening as well as doing his own solos with an assured competence which made them smooth and satisfying: jazz which just sits in your hand, calm and easy on the ear. None of the music was mind-blowing or world-shattering, but it was enjoyable and it was performed earnestly.
Oxley also brought the whole group together and kept the show running, even when Damon had a few mishaps, losing his way or misplacing a note. Damon actually signalled these moments with a frown or an 'arh!' which was very honest of him. It felt unusual and quite refreshing to see a musician admitting to his mistakes. Certainly this contributed to the easygoing, relaxed atmosphere in the room.
This atmosphere is a big reason why Spin Jazz at the Wheatsheaf comes recommended. On top of this, what I heard was an evening of well-played jazz and I get the feeling one can rely on the good people of Spin Jazz to be consistent in their output. It's a well-organised series and we're lucky to have such a well-established Jazz club happening regularly in Oxford.