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The Spin Jazz Club

Oxford's longest running Thursday night jazz club

The Spin is rightly recognised as one of the vibiest clubs in the UK, its hip atmosphere and top performances claiming the prestigious Parliamentary Jazz Award for best live jazz. Every week you can hear the best of British jazz courtesy of the brilliant house band and an incredible line up of guests.

April 12, 2019
Spin winds down for Easter with casual cool

Damon Brown with the Spin Trio, Thu 11th April 2019

There was a more laid back mood at the Spin for the last concert before its Easter break. The house trio of Pete Oxley, guitar, Mark Doffman on drums and guest bassist Dave Jones, (depping for Raf Mizraki) were joined by British trumpet star Damon Brown, and there was a distinct off-duty flavour to the proceedings.

Brown popped by the Spin while visiting from his current home in South Korea. With a pedigree ranging from The Specials to Stan Tracey, via Benny Golson and Don Weller, as well as his own highly-respected projects, he brought a cool lyricism and warm tone to every piece.

It was not a night for experimentation, though Pete Oxley’s angular, enquiring approach always nudges a safe old 'I got rhythm' nicely to the edges of its comfort zone. The assembled quartet swung through a tasteful selection of standards at low volume, propelled by Doffman’s whispering cymbals and deft touches on the drums. Dave Jones kept feet tapping even in the stripped-down setting, with Oxley’s sparse changes leaving plenty of space.

Trumpet can be shrill and harsh, but Brown’s fluency and round tone ensured the heads and solos were never overwhelming. Even in this cooled down setting, he generated the right kind of energy simply with the inventiveness of his work through the changes, always with a strong sense of melody and with occasional bluesy edges to maintain the colour and groove.

There was a treat in store too, because Brown revealed himself to be a sultry, soulful singer, with engaging versions of I Left My Heart In San Francisco and Come Rain Or Come Shine. As a trumpeter with a taste for vocals, comparisons with Chet Baker are inevitable, but Brown has his own greasy sound, more reminiscent of vocalists like Al Jarreau or Oscar Brown Jr. The songs were refreshing and highly popular interludes.

Among the instrumentals we heard Stella By Starlight, Silver Serenade and Clifford Brown’s Joyspring, with Benny Golson’s Killer Joe allowing Dave Jones to show off his funkier side. Charles Mingus’ gospelised Nostalgia In Times Square brought the evening to a relatively rousing conclusion.

You can catch Pete Oxley with Nicolas Meier at Worton Organic Farm on Easter Saturday. Otherwise, keep your diary free for Thursday May 2nd, when the Eva Lovett Group gets the Spin’s summer season underway.

April 5, 2019
European union weaves waves of world jazz

Tria Lingvo featuring Mike Walker, Thursday 4th April 2019

“Isn’t it marvellous how they understand each other?”

These are the words of Mike Walker’s mum commenting on foreign language films. She might just as well have been talking about her son’s latest international collaboration.

Walker told us the tale while introducing Clockmaker, his delicate tribute to the father of long-time bandmate Iain Dixon. Such gentle humour was a feature of the evening, the four musicians taking it in turns between numbers to chat genially to a packed Spin Jazz Club.

It was a good job they did. The music they made was of such absorbing intensity that we needed a little light relief between the pieces, just to remind us where we were. It is a mark of the Spin’s dedication to hosting jazz in all its myriad forms that this remarkable, adventurous ensemble was able to captivate an audience fresh from last week’s straight-ahead blowing session with Luca Stoll.

Tria Lingvo – it is Esperanto for “language of three” – are the award-winning German trio of Johannes Lemke on alto sax, André Nendza on bass and Christoph Hillman on drums and percussion. Their joyous weaving of all kinds of musical influences into a format usually free of a harmony instrument gives a fresh fluency to their improvisation, which was only enriched by the sensitive presence of Mike Walker’s guitar.

Music is just slightly organised noise, really, and there is a strong case for the electric guitar as the most versatile and expressive of all noise-generating devices, provided it is in the right hands. And there are few hands better at wringing wistful, twisting and gripping sounds from a guitar than those of Mike Walker. We knew something special had arrived from the very first note. The dome resting on Hillman’s snare was revealed as a garrahand, a tuneable metal percussion instrument that produced rippling tones reminiscent of a marimba or a hang.

Layers of sound built around the patterns he created as Walker and Nendza added shimmering harmonics, filling the room with singing, crystal notes. This was Hillman’s composition Unbeschwert, meaning “light-hearted” or “carefree”, and it grew into a swirling, hypnotic piece of extended improvisation that held the Spin spellbound. Quarter of an hour passed before we noticed, Lemke ruefully reassuring us that we were already almost half way through the set before introducing the next piece, his own lilting Passing #2.

And so the evening proceeded, with flowing collective improvisation taking us on journeys of swinging exhilaration, ambient transcendence and even blistering rock fusion, interspersed with charming monologues from each musician as they introduced their respective compositions.

Every piece was a shifting soundscape drawn from the seemingly infinite pool of possibility created by this happy meeting of musical minds. We even got the chance to join in, Hillman calling us to sing along with the Eastern-tinged saxophone refrain that danced over the collective soloing in his evocative Da Habib Helal.

Sadly, the curfew forbade an encore, though Nendza politely pointed out that we could take one home with us in the form of the CDs that Walker and the trio had brought along. The Oxford jazz faithful needed no second bidding, especially when he explained that the good folk of Cambridge had been particularly generous the night before!

Next week, trumpeter Damon Brown joins the Spin’s house trio of Pete Oxley, Mark Doffman and Raf Mizraki. It won’t be the same, but then that’s the point. Jazz never ceases its exploration.

March 29, 2019
Jazz giants blow Oxford to Harlem and back

Luca Stoll Quartet - Thursday 28th March 2019

New York in the 1940s was a glorious place to be. Jazz, America's great cultural gift to the world, was in ferment. Speeding up, getting complicated and heading for the free-for-all of the 1950s and 1960s. But there was a moment, just before Messrs Parker, Gillespie, Roach and their pals wrenched bop from the womb of swing, when you could sense something incredible was about to happen, without any clue as to what it might be. And for a couple of stomping, lilting and swinging hours at the Spin Jazz Club on Thursday you could feel something of that breathless excitement again.

Luca Stoll, the genial Swiss tenor sax man, and his regular touring partner Ofer Landsberg on guitar were joined at The Spin by two bona fide British jazz giants. Bassist Dave Green and drummer Steve Brown are stalwarts of the Scott Hamilton Quartet and have sidemen credits that extend from Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins to Stan Tracey, Humphrey Lyttleton and Don Rendell.

Stoll and Landsberg both served their time on the modern New York scene, including studying with the great jazz educator Barry Harris. Stoll was also mentored by Branford Marsalis after sitting in with him at the Village Vanguard. Although some three decades separated the two (relatively) young guns and the seasoned rhythm men, they were united by the timeless language of jazz.

We know how things were in New York back in the early 1940s because a jazz fan named Jerry Newman took his tape recorder to after-hours Harlem clubs like Minton’s and Monroe’s to hear the great swing players stretching out after their big band sessions at the local dance hot spots. Stoll and his ensemble were in similar gung-ho mood at The Spin, revelling in the chance to groove round some standards from the era together, in a club perfectly in keeping with the spirit of those breathless years. We were treated to a classic blowing session from men steeped in the tradition, watching them spar and push each other to wring every drop of swing and harmony from the venerable changes.

Ben Webster’s bluesy Pouting loosened things up, with Kenny Dorham’s Prince Albert, based on the changes for All The Things You Are, fixing the mood firmly in classic, straight-down-the-line New York jazz. Stoll prefers to work acoustically in settings like this, so we were treated to his big tone, unfiltered by microphones and speakers. Landsberg added his biting, flying fluency, while the mixture of Green and Brown, far from muddy, drove things in a way that is only possible when you have what Stoll called a 'hook-up' as proven as theirs.

We heard Don Byas’ Byas A Drink, Thelonious Monk’s Pannonica, Coleman Hawkins’ Hollywood Stampede, and a gorgeously smokey version of Duke Ellington’s ballad Prelude To A Kiss. Like the pros they are, the quartet finished respectfully before the 11 pm curfew. But they had four minutes left and a standing ovation from the Spin Jazz faithful brought them back for a quick swing through Off Minor, another Monk standard.

You can hear Luca Stoll and Ofer Landsberg in the Rooftop Restaurant at the Ashmolean Museum every Friday. It’s a little more restrained than the joyous blowing we heard at The Spin, but it’s still a journey into the best that classic jazz can offer. And to hear Luca Stoll soar into a seductive, brassy note at the top of a melody is a privilege wherever you can find it.

March 22, 2019
British jazz stars take each other for a Spin

Adam Waldmann, John Law, Mark Hodgson, Corrie Dick, performing on Thursday 21st March 2019

The Spin Jazz Club is a prime example of the unique energy that keeps music live in the UK. For more than 20 years it has been hosting the best that British and international jazz can offer, fuelled by the energy of jazz lovers who do it for the music, not the money.

For one night each week, you can climb the stairs at The Wheatsheaf and find yourself in a room that has been transformed into an intimate, moodily-lit jazz venue of the kind that you might find in Harlem, Soho or the backstreets of Paris. All that's missing is the cigarette smoke.

Into this classic setting came the celebrated saxophonist and composer Adam Waldmann, with John Law on piano, Mark Hodgson on bass and Corrie Dick on drums. They hadn't played together before, but that doesn't matter when you speak jazz.

Adam Waldmann, playing soprano and tenor sax, has brought the American post-bop tradition together with the distinctly European character of players like John Surman or Jan Gabarek to find his own unique voice. He is a man who honours melodies, whether they are his own Hymn To Her or The Lost One, or classics such as Herbie Hancock's hypnotic Maiden Voyage, or Joe Henderson's swirling Inner Urge.

In his newly-encountered bandmates for the evening, he found the perfect companions. Every improvisational sequence was a considered piece of music in its own right, celebrating the composition while allowing the players to express ideas with fluent freedom. There was no flashy technique, just effortless virtuosity that always served the song.

What fans of modern jazz (whatever modern might mean) are privileged to share is the never-ending quest for moments of transcendence that jazz musicians embark upon every time they play. At the Spin club, the collective playing of the ensemble generated rippling pools of sound that enthralled and enchanted. Waldmann has an almost flute-like tone, even on tenor, that allows his gift for melody to sing and calls his fellow musicians along with him.

John Law switched tastefully between acoustic and electric piano sounds, even bringing in luscious strings to grace the ethereal introduction to Maiden Voyage. His unaccompanied passage at the conclusion of John Coltrane's Central Park West was a gorgeous exploration of harmony.

Mark Hodgson showed that bass solos can be every bit as melodic as front-line instruments, while Corrie Dick's drumming was a lesson in understated power and drive. Throughout, he created landscapes of rhythm and shimmering tones that allowed the other players to shine. His solo on Inner Urge was mesmerising.

It wasn't recorded, so if you weren't there, all those moments are gone forever. That's the generosity of jazz: it hoards nothing, letting ideas fly where they will, always making way for the next piece of transcendent beauty. Still, thanks to the Spin Jazz Club, there's always next week.

December 14, 2018
Ambitious compositions, masterfully executed

Henry Spencer's Juncture - Thursday 13th Dec 2018

Downstairs at the Wheatsheaf, you know what to expect - long haired rockers, multiple piercings in places you didn’t know could even be pierced (and these are just the faces!) and the pub’s classic sticky floor. However, it’s the upstairs of the pub that is a constant surprise. Every Thursday evening, punters venturing onto the first floor will find themselves in a dingy jazz club. The décor of Parisian red chequered tablecloths and fake candles give the whole place the feel of a stage set, as if each member of the audience has unwittingly become an extra on some cheap film noir.

The Spin Jazz Club is a weekly event hosted by the Wheatsheaf, featuring some of the finest emerging talent of the genre. Tonight is the return of Henry Spencer’s Juncture. It is a particularly special event, as the charismatic (and my god the spitting image of Russell Howard!) Spencer and his band mainly use their set to play brand new compositions - 'Here' was a particular audience favourite. The beautifully original compositions are written by Spencer himself, and required him and the band to read from sheet music (something they don’t usually like to do). Using sheet music can often make a musician less free in their playing, but not so with this confident lot, who paired their very new but finely tuned set with an obvious passion for the looseness and expressiveness of the genre. This love for the music was charmingly highlighted by Spencer’s enormous smiles sporadically beaming out at the audience during particularly complicated moments in his compositions.

A quick word on the critically acclaimed band (worth noting a sometimes rotating group of musicians). Henry Spencer - multi-award-winning composer and trumpet player, on trumpet and flugelhorn; the fantastic Ant Law on electric guitar; Jason Simpson on double bass (playing the instrument so tightly you could feel him tying the compositions together); Rob Brockway displaying his technical mastery on the piano and, finally, the impressive Jay Davis on drums (his final solo saw him playing with awesome speed and accuracy).

Spencer, Simpson and Brockway studied and played together during their time at London’s Guildhall School of Music, but in fact the audience experiences the entire band collectively drawing on years of playing together during their set. The deep musical understanding between the players resounds through the interactions between their instruments.

Now, I will be the first to say that, unlike the jazz aficionados sat around me, my knowledge of the genre is lacking. But regardless, the pure ability and dexterity of the musicians was obvious to me, seen through the mastery of their instruments and the ambition in Spencer’s compositions. The Wheatsheaf, once again, has done Oxford proud.

July 5, 2006
Chris Garrick Band,
6 July 2006
If you haven’t been to the Spin, you’re missing out. Finding top quality professional musicians in the small upstairs room of a town centre pub may sound implausible, but on Thursday nights The Spin transforms the Wheatsheaf’s grimy gig venue into Oxford’s premier jazz venue.

This really has the feel of a quality club. Though everybody seems to know everyone else and the banter suggests that musicians make up a large part of the audience, the vibe still manages to be welcoming rather than exclusive. The star attraction shouts familiarly from the stage at organiser Pete Oxley, and is his own compere, in a sweet and unassuming style. It’s possible that Mr Oxley has a secret weapon in his defence (and also a potential booking tool): he is a bow maker, and makes Garrick’s. He’ll certainly need a re-hair after tonight, as the fast and furious player has been shedding like a dog in August.

The first half saw the band (bass, keys, drums and Garrick on miked-up acoustic) swooshing masterfully through a range of styles including tracks as diverse as Mercer/Schertzinger’s I Remember You and a contemplative piece written by William Walton for Shakespeare’s Henry V. Most were performed in a similar light, Brubeckian style, with lots of room for improv sections where each individual performer could shine. Everything was pleasing on the ear, though nothing stood out so much as the considerable ability of the performers. Oddly enough, the soundsystem seemed slightly unkind to the lead instrument, and the most noticeable features of the first half were the fabulous Paul Moylan (booked only 10 hours before the gig), bass, and Dave Gordon, keys. Garrick’s stage presence is unassuming, and he stood perfectly still, his playing seeming straightforward and simple, if not even a little rigid. This gave the second half even more impact, as the emergence of a little black electric violin and huge guitar effects rack began a whole new proverbial ball game.

The set had a good range of high-energy and more relaxed numbers, with a few Latin tracks for good measure, and some quirky arrangements (though this was often contained in slightly disjointed, more interesting endings stuck on the end of otherwise unremarkable yet very pleasant interpretations). I occasionally felt the ghostly absence of a vocalist, but Garrick’s snippet of Hendrix’s Red House at the end of his jaw-droppingly impressive effects and loop-laden Hendrix tribute track had me satisfied as well as belly-laughing with delight. This man truly is versatile. (One minute a koto, then a thumping looped bassline, and finally a screaming electric guitar track seared over the mix – the rest of the band stood back and let this solo piece wash over them, and I couldn’t help thinking that I’d like to see more of Garrick doing this sort of thing.) We were even treated to an action-packed version of the 5, 6, 7, 8sKill Bill Blues (‘woo hoo, woo hoo hoo…’), a rollercoaster medley of familiar snapshots that had the audience grinning and jiggling in their seats, and featured a hilarious call-and-response improv section.

The last track, Four Spirits, was dedicated to the touring musician’s way of life and acted as showcase for the individual skills of the band members. This was duly impressive, with drummer Tom Hooper getting to show off for the first time this evening with timp sticks on the floor toms. This quartet acted as a cohesive and jovially co-operative unit throughout, and even when Garrick screamed madly above them, there was no sense of any one ego being too big for the stage (or the band). It was a pleasure to witness.

Check out future gigs at the club at Next week is the fabulous saxman Mornington Crescent – woops, I mean Locket. :-)
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