Bryan Corbett with Alex Steele, Paul Jefferies and Charlie Stratford - Thu 25th April 2019
Today’s jazz musicians are lucky. They have a far broader repertoire at their disposal than the greats on whose legacy they are building. More than that, they have fresh styles and influences to draw upon. Where Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and the rest were mostly working with swing, trad and the popular standards of their day, the young guns of modern jazz have grown up with soul, rock, funk, hip-hop, heavy metal, electronica and all the variations on countless other genres.
It shows. Bryan Corbett, with a lengthy string of credits that includes sessions for Ben E. King, The Brand New Heavies and Gary US Bonds, is passionate about the jazz greats. But his interpretations of their work, and his own compositions, demonstrate a wider consciousness. There are dimensions and dynamics to his playing that only someone growing up in a post-rock and funk-laden world could bring to the hard bop format.
This was the fourth Woodstock Jazz session, launched by bassist Paul Jefferies and his partner Jayne, whose Little Live Music Company is establishing a thriving jazz scene in Oxfordshire and the surrounding area. Corbett was backed by Jefferies on bass, with pianist Alex Steele and Charlie Stratford on drums. They made a fine quartet, the backing trio coming fresh to the charts and providing a sensitive and responsive platform for the soloist. Standards like Softly As In A Morning Sunrise and Bernie Miller’s workout Bernie’s Tune were blended with a soulful take on Try A Little Tenderness and a funk-infused version of McHugh and Loesser’s Let’s Get Lost, which became a Chet Baker classic.
Corbett, while honouring the spirit of his heroes, has a technical command that allows him to explore the changes with the boldness and fluency of someone whose formative musical landscape had been further broadened by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Prince and the later explorations of Miles Davis. The freedom and dynamics of his playing, occasionally calling in touches from
The second set included two original compositions. Cathedral Run is a Latin-flavoured groove with a dancing hook, while Crystal Water is an evocative ballad featuring Corbett’s elegant flugelhorn playing. It also gave the trio a chance to embark upon a passage that took things almost into free jazz territory, without ever losing the essential feel. It was a fine piece of collective improvisation.
Corbett concluded the session with his nod to the 60th anniversary of some of the most influential albums in jazz, of which Miles’ Kind Of Blue is arguably the most famous. It was characteristic of his adventurous approach that he chose a track rarely performed by other musicians, the ethereal Flamenco Sketches. His interpretation of the melody was rich with Spanish colour, recalling that other Miles Davis classic Sketches Of Spain, and his solo was a masterclass in restrained power. It was an exquisite end to an absorbing evening’s music.
The next Woodstock Jazz evening is on Friday May 25. It features acclaimed singer Kevin Fitzsimmons swinging his way through the American Songbook, backed by the dazzling piano of Leon Greening.