MARK LOCKHEART'S DAYS ON EARTH AT STAPLEFORD GALLERY
Musicians are amazing full stop. But jazz musicians are just the coolest of them all. The buzz around these sultans of swing is enjoyable - even before they start to play. Mark Lockheart’s unusual eightsome exuded a warm atmos from the outset. Even though this player composer learned his sublime saxophone skills in the US of A – his dad was a thwarted drummer who bought a sax there and shared it with his son – Mark’s on- stage style is distinctly British. American jazzers are serious cats. They don’t banter or joke, it’s sternly down to the serious stuff. Audiences are on trial and no murmuring allowed. Was it Ronnie Scott (he of the famous Club in Soho) who started the laidback chat that lingers on over here? It is the London style essentially and though Mark Lockheart has one band member from Froome (for how long?) his is a London style with accents voices jokes and a dry wit to match the capital
Days on Earth was keenly awaited in Cambridge. Already famous as the composer to lead his own large-scale jazz orchestra, this performance was the début of the scaled down band. Just eight potent players proceeded to exude a brilliant blend of high tempo frenetic groove and follow up with darker, quieter numbers. All composed astonishingly entirely by Mark Lockheart himself, is superb. But when you watch him conduct his line up the respect doubles. Just a few classic conducting moves and there they are, in on the same beat, matching and layering the sounds to super human level.
It must help to have a team of top class players on your side. And there are women, young women on stage. Alice Leggett on alto sax could have been Gerry Mulligan at his up beat best – except when you opened your eyes, instead of a hard living US jazzer was a demure young woman straight out of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Laura Jurd on trumpet was equally superb. Valve perfect in precision, she harmonized in free style genius mode. Her playing with XX on guitar was worth the ticket alone. Unsurprisingly ,already a star player, she has her own CD coming out.
And the music was miraculous. With a driving bass from Tom Herbert a member of the original line up, and depping for Seb Rochford, Dave Smith on drums of exceptional brilliance (Mark’s father’s first love was drums – he sold his kit to take out Mark’s mother) other instruments shone. It was great to see The Granary’s lovely grand piano at the hands of smooth and sophisticated Liam Noble not something every venue can provide. A sparky Rowland Sutherland on flute and piccolo was full of impish charm, and a guitar performance from John Parricelli worthy of Eric Clapton on form.
The sequence included ‘ This Much I know” a glittering piece and Party Animal went on and on and on in a fabulous way through the cacophony of an early party arrival to the muted fun of the kitchen get together finale. And all these from the pen – and brain – of Mark Lockheart. ‘Believer’ was harmonically beautiful and Triana with soft and sensual piano, amazing from an artist who also has his own CD doing the appreciative rounds..
A long second set was superb. On a sultry evening the open Granary windows managed to stop any over heating of the building and illuminate the lovely
Cambridgeshre countryside beyond. As the trees around darkened a grey heron took off over the still water. Now the place has received another architectural award, will it be long before this quirky arts centre pushes outwards towards a Snape Maltings style scale of magnificence.?
Certainly if they have the nous to hook in the likes of Mark Lockheart and his band it is bound to flourish into the future.
Meanwhile tune in to his work for the sheer optimism and upbeat faith in music and musicians that the Mark Lockheart band.proposes.. It will just slightly alter your outlook in these troubled Days on Earth where we need a charge of hope for the future. As one departing pnter put it, ‘Just Wow’