Words by Althea Patterson / Pics by Lucy Heath
With the crowd waiting expectantly, Soweto Kinch kept us entertained playing Coltrane’s Naima on the piano – standing in for an absent Ruben James. Jay Phelps arrived slightly later than planned, berating the London traffic and tube strike.
Barely off the motorway and ensconced in a cold Birmingham, along with his bassist Mark Lewandowski, the trio got stuck into performing with aplomb. With a short warm up, they lit up the beautiful Bramall Hall with a pacy rendition of Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison’s Better Go, what a delight. Heads bopped and knees swung. The acoustics saw Jay’s trumpet ring as clear around the hall. My, can he play…
Quickly jumping into a rendition of Gigi Gryce’s Salute to Bandbox, Phelps’ playful joy of performance made me want to dance in the sun. Still, and with the delightful piano of Kinch accompanying, I was content to sit and listen with the rain falling outside.
Jay Phelps makes no secret of his knowledge of Jazz and its long history. Here is a man who loves his chosen art; littering us with anecdotes of his hero Duke Ellington and his cohorts and contemporaries. Phelps, sharply dressed in suit, plays well to the Jazz ‘look’ of old – even so far as to mop his brow between playing with an elegant silk handkerchief. Dapper? I do say.
Playing a melody based on Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm the trio tore it apart and set it back up in a way you had to appreciate. I’m of the school that improvisation was too hard to follow; my shame, tonight my ears were opened up to a flow and I was converted. I relaxed and let it wash over me.
This is not to say the brass had all the fun tonight, oh no. Double bass player Mark Lewandowski shone with solos, skill, dexterity and humour; between the interplay of the sax and trumpet he was akin to a matador taming two testy bulls. He was amazing.
But the cherry on top was singer Francis Mott, joining the trio on a beautiful rendition of Autumn Leaves. Mott blew me away with his Stevie Wonder-like smoothness, ad libbing and searing notes. I had to compliment him afterwards ‘YOUR VOICE IS STUNNING’ or something equally as subtle.
The set ended with a rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s Upper Manhattan Medical Group. Talented, cool and most certainly passionate, Jay Phelps and his trio brought some musical sunshine at least to an otherwise dreary Brum day. Huzzah.
For more on Jay Phelps, visit http://jayphelpsmusic.com
For more from THSH’s Jazzlines programme, visit http://www.thsh.co.uk/whats-on/jazz-and-blues