The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London
2nd July 2015
I’m glad this gig was not on the day before, when temperatures in the capital shot over 35°C, which combined with the sopping humidity and the thick breeze made stepping outside feel like being repeatedly slapped in the face with a hot wet towel. That was above ground, so Lord knows what the Tube must have been like!
No, Thursday 2nd of July was a far more pleasant day, some ten degrees cooler and much less humid. Basking in this glorious summer day sat at a table on Gillett Square in the marvellously culturally diverse north-eastern London district of Dalston, enjoying a beer and a plate of pasta while taking in the colourful sights and sounds was a damn good way to chill before the gig. The Vortex Jazz Club – not to be confused with the iconic scuzzy punk venue The Vortex which was in Wardour Street in case you were wondering – is an upstairs room overlooking the square. The venue, which could at a push seat about 100 around the small tables and along the cushioned window ledge, was probably populated by around half that number for tonight’s entertainment.
This concert was effectively a launch gig for the band’s new album Transgression, out on Monday 6th July. As I had pre-ordered my copy, that precluded me from buying one at the gig so I cannot dig deeper into the new tunes in the setlist as I type. “Patience dear boy, patience”, I hear you cry!
One of the new tunes was opener Fire Mountain which fair smokes along and like a lot of the new album shows the influence of Theo’s time with Steven Wilson, in that some of Wilson’s trademark jazz-prog moves are present, albeit with more of a fusion stance. It is a moot point as to whom was influencing who when Theo and Steven got together, trading jazz licks. This cross-fertilisation with the current king of prog reaches its zenith with the new album’s title track, a real treat for me as it incorporates elements of two modes of playing that when done right are unbeatable in my sometimes wilfully obscure musical universe.
You’ll note the cover of See Emily Play, which gives room for Theo to extrapolate on soprano sax. Following that was Smokin’ at Klooks, a tribute in the style of Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman to the famous ’60s muso hangout Klooks Kleek where the Mac were the house band. Theo told us that the venue was hosted by a pub, close to where he used to live.
Although Double Talk are Theo’s band, the other frontline player is guitarist Mike Outram, a well-respected name in jazz circles, having also contributed to Steven Wilson recordings, and a man blessed with chops that other plank spankers may only dream of. There was one number, it may have been Transgression, where he contributed a coruscating blast of incendiary playing, through what sounded like an octave divider. The resultant sonic assault had me on the edge of my seat, utterly fabulous stuff. Mike’s interjections throughout were never quite what might be expected, taking thrilling twists and turns into off-kilter lands.
The other two players were drummer Nic France, who has played with David Gilmour, Kate Bush, and the ubiquitous Steven Wilson, among many others. His contributions were subtle but distinctive, keeping things within the prescribed rhythms, his drums being more relied on than normal as there was no bass player for him to play off. The bass parts were nonetheless deftly contributed by organist Pete Whittaker’s Left Hand, capitalised because Theo gave it its own credit at the end of the set. Pete plays regularly with guitarists John Etheridge and Nigel Price, and has been a touring member of The Wonderstuff and The Catherine Wheel.
Pete’s turn in the spotlight came on A Place In The Queue, a title the prog fans among you will recognise as being the sprawling 25-minute title track off The Tangent’s 2006 album. Co-written by Andy Tillison and Theo, who introduced it with “unusually for a prog number, here we are doing an edited ten-minute instrumental version”. This tune is also on the new album. Not being familiar with the original, I can say that apart from a slightly disjointed section near the end, possibly down to the editing, it works just fine. Any Tangent song minus Andy Tillison’s shall we say “distinctive” vocals has to be a bonus in my view! Pete’s organ playing on this number is well funky in places.
Another cover, this time a delightful take on Robert Wyatt’s Maryan off the sublime Shleep album precedes the most spiky of endings courtesy of the ten-minute The Crow Road, a tune from Theo’s third solo album Secret Island, from way back in 1996. This rousing number features more stellar soloing from Theo and Mike, and the usual and consistently high standard of ensemble playing.
A lot of the music was being read from scores, and the whole show was as tight as a nut, but barring a couple of low-key slightly unsure counting-ins, you would never guess this was only the third time this line-up had played together. I look forward to the autumn tour, dates for which will be posted on Theo’s website.
[Note – the lone picture may look like one of my usual murky mobile phone shots, but I got so into the music I simply forgot to take any! The picture is courtesy of Behrang Dizadi.]
See Emily Play
Smokin at Klooks
Barking Dogs and Caravans
Song for Samuel
A Place in the Queue
The Crow Road
Theo Travis – Saxophones, Flute
Mike Outram – Guitar
Pete Whittaker – Organ
Nic France – Drums