By Henry Bashford
Wednesday, February 9 cafedral, the usual daytime study area has been completely redesigned. Closer to a downtown jazz club than a popular student cafe, it provided the perfect setting for the first ‘after hours Durham University Jazz Society calendar session.
Bathed in warm mood lighting and surrounded by an abundance of plants and greenery, its intimate ambience would prove to be the perfect setting for a packed audience for the next two hours. For many the return to live music has been long awaited, we are all learning how to resume our lives in a post-pandemic world, the buzz of being back in the room where the music is made now felt like such a privilege. An event such as ‘After Hours’ presents itself as an attractive opportunity for many students – a chance to unwind after a long day of studying in the library, a chance to bathe again in the sounds of live music.
Durham’s jazz scene has exploded in recent years, with more students becoming interested and involved. With the University‘s long tradition of high-profile big bands now accompanied by increasingly smaller jazz ensembles catering to a plethora of subgenres, styles and abilities, Durham’s jazz scene seems stronger than ever.
This strength was evident in the line-up of the ‘after hours quintet, providing a fantastic insight into the level of young jazz talent among Durham’s student population.
The theme of the evening was “An Evening of Standards” and the well-organized set certainly lived up to its title. The program, filled with well-known classics from Davis to Monk, would have satisfied any jazzophile, also proving a great taster for any first-time listener and providing a refreshing contrast to the company’s weekly Jazz Jams.
Covering a wide variety of jazz genres and styles, the program did not disappoint.
Opening with Miles Davis’ “All Blues”, the quintet offered a recognizable invitation to the public, a preview of what was to come over the next few hours. From the opening bars, the musicality of the quintet was of a high standard; often having to remind myself that I was watching a performance entirely directed by students. The rhythm section, comprising; Ewan Thomas (bass), Freddie Krone (drums) and Daniel Goodwin (keyboards and organ), barely missed a beat all night. The trio’s chemistry was admirable, and the dialogic relationship of their playing was refreshing and made for entertaining listening. Of particular note is that Goodwin’s line-up throughout the night was sophisticated, well-formed and incredibly tasteful, never overplayed. This was evidenced by the on-stage musical back and forth shared with Thomas and Krone, each using and playing off each other throughout the night.
The opening few tracks found the rhythm section accompanied by one of the two main musicians, Multi-Sax and woodwind player Alex Wardill. A proficient and often ethereal player, Wardill’s tone on tenor and baritone sax was fluid throughout, with his multi-faceted solo providing a fun and refreshing listen, making lofty use of each instrument’s range and all tonal qualities. thanks to a tasteful melodic interpretation. The last member to join the group on stage was the singer of the evening, Jazz Society co-president Elen Clarke. ‘Jim’ was the first standard of the set who offered us his enchanting voice, never overexerting himself and making many difficult races sound effortless; Clarke’s tone was mature and timeless. Occasionally reminiscent of the classic Lady Day sound, her dispersal ability being of a respectable standard for such a young singer.
Split into two halves, a highlight of the performance was the closing track of the first set. Tribute to jazz titan, Chick Corea, with arguably his most established composition, Spain, the track proved to be a fitting choice given that the composers died on the same day a year prior. Full of energy and intensity, the quintet certainly did the track justice, as evidenced by the engaged audience reaction, as well as presenting some of the best solo examples of the night.
After a brief interval, the quintet performed six more standards. Starting with One Night in Tunisia, the second set of the evening was of a different character from the first, summed up perfectly by this choice of the opening track. It should be noted the version of the group of Lark. A firm favorite in many of the company’s weekly Jazz Jams, the quintet’s rendition was incredibly tasteful and beautifully phrased, certainly on par. Highlighted by Krone’s fantastic dexterity on the kit and Thomas’ smooth navigation on the sidelines.
As the evening drew to a close and the final notes faded, I found myself wanting more, realizing how much I had missed live music. My only criticism of the quintet’s performance was that they couldn’t have gone on playing any longer. A brilliantly organized concert, the After Hours series proves to be a show not to be missed.
Photography: Thomas Tomlinson