Patchouli-flavoured vapes scented the air as a newly-decorated Tapster’s Promise in Colne, Lancashire, housed the Neil C. Young Trio one Wednesday night. It was an aural treat for both jazz heads and those folk who were curious but un-knowing of Coltrane, Miles, et al. The evening was split into two sets; Neil C. Young led on guitar with Ian Bell on drums and Alan Witham on bass guitar. 13 numbers came and sped by amidst relaxed runs, strolls and purposeful driving. Major music for a micro-pub indeed.
After they’d eased in with a respectful rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s And Then She Stopped, the second number was a mesmerising Cannonball Adderley cover from his 1973 album Inside Straight. Eschewing the brass and shakers of the saxman’s quintet, Saudade was a suitably driving, building piece spearheaded by Young’s restrained delivery of melody. This was the work of a trio full of insistency and directed drive. Both qualities were present throughout the first set, but on Saudade it was first seen that this was that holy grail – and delicious dichotomy – of three players producing in unison whilst free to roam and return with pleasing asides and contributions. A pleasing start to the evening!
Young, a benign controller, took the lead solo on some of the first set’s numbers, directing the parameters of melody and scale, tempo and emotion, bringing in Witham to share the floor on some tunes. Agua Calientes – from Young’s forthcoming untitled album – showcased his ability to deftly transition between a clipped funky ranch-house Joe Walsh strum into stretching Wes Montgomery-like processions of tumbling, pealing blue notes whilst still able to briefly call Carlos Santana’s licks to mind.
Bell, sat down as the centre of a quartered segment with Witham to his left and Young to his right, was at the controls for the heart of the stun. The drummer was a Billy Cobham when needed to nestle behind the bass, but also contributed a sense of longing and reasoning at all times through staunch playing which was frequently topped with a sprinkling of flourish and flair.
Whilst the first set was easily enjoyed by both ensemble and audience, the latter was where emotions and movements were taken up a notch. There was a straight respectability in the first set whereas the second set was looser – possibly more inviting and involving (though this reviewer’s appreciative opinion might stem from having had his ears ‘opened’ and attuned to the point where he was ready for more), but, regardless, there was a playful air at times no doubt due in part to the choice of covers.
The first piece opened with minor guitar chords then the mood toughened to a distinctly urban-rooted groove with the bass as anchor at the centre; the other instruments frittery and free above and below in the mix. Now in came an interloping melody of Lana Del Ray’s ‘Video Games’ with some riveting fingering and thumbing of the bass. If the late Bernard Edwards could be relied on to play the righteous notes, Witham simply played an endless series of right ones… glued to the colours teased from Young’s fretboard.
Guitar and bass traded ripostes as a seemingly stoic Bell unassumingly shored up proceedings, providing scattered cymbal touches, iced rim-shots and high-hats. The fourth number was the tightest, funkiest groove of the night: the two leads’ notes pared down to squeaks at times from within the bars. Lost within the grooves and their reverberations down the bar, the night’s scribbled thoughts recall the enjoyable facial contortions of Witham as he met each challenge crafted by Young.
Ronnie Hilton’s A Windmill In Old Amsterdam, a crate-digging/internet-trawling discovery from the days when pop truly meant popular, briefly appeared, but the closing number was an inspired choice: ‘Human Nature’. This was a reverent yet limber Witham-led cover of Michael Jackson’s quiet storm of a soul song from Thriller. With a little meanness and grit added to the original, Bell’s hats rang out at times as the mood dipped down in order to be able to climb a little later. It ended with gorgeous splashes and tinkles from Bell, with Witham firmly at the rudder, as the chorus replayed endlessly in this attendee’s mind.
One wondered what these players could make of the addition of a Mark Murphy or another vocalist capable of running the numbers alongside them. Similarly, it would be a pleasure to hear the added dimension of keys or brass to Young’s already-pleasing palette and repertoire. On this evening, however, as the last of the summer heat gradually vanished, the trio sauntered through a broad church of black music, cooking up their own heated world due to some serious intentions. The audience sat agog in a familiar setting – their faces showing their clear interest and amazement as this was Newmarket St relocated to Birdland, to the Impulse recording studios, to the church of what was happening.
Visit https://www.neilcyoungtrio.co.uk for information on past work and the new album.
© Pat Mellow 2018