Last night’s Greg Abate gig finally dispersed the remnants of the COVID gloom and nervousness that have kept indoor JazzLeeds restricted in so many ways. Supported brilliantly by a trio of local lads he simply blew us all away with his inventive driving work on alto and flute. And it’s difficult for this audience member to know where to begin to describe a really outstanding evening’s entertainment.

For Greg is more than “just” a top musician. He’s the only headliner I know of who treats his audience as old buddies from the off, relaxed, affable, virtually asking opinion as to which key to play the next piece in and with gentle anecdotes to make us laugh. He’s made for the close contact of clubs, not a stage. At 74 Greg’s one of the last of the “journeymen” jazz musicians, visiting the UK annually for several weeks, playing around 250 gigs a year, organised in all respects by himself since he has no agent. His repertoire is based solidly on the works of Bird and Bebop (“Yardbird Suite, Parker’s Mood”), but he can turn his hand, and did, to standards (“All the Things You Are”), his own compositions (“Family”) and arrangements (Kenny Barron’s “Voyage”). His on-the-road one-night way of gigging means he meets his accompanists for the first time shortly before their first number, and it’s heads down and straight in. And of course it’s the same for them – but worse!

The physical closeness of the group to us meant that we could see AND hear Greg, especially in the first set, sergeant-majoring instructions to any one of his group like a machine gun, leading to permutations like him alone, him and drums, bass and drums, trio (take your pick), swapping fours in the most convoluted patterns. Not only no rehearsal, but this was jazz as it is at its heart, created on the hoof, and my hat goes off to Pete Rosser(p), Sam Jackson(b) and John Settle(d) who played superbly, totally unruffled by the rapidity of the pieces, the impromptu changes of tempo, the sudden changes from a quartet to a duo as if they’d played with Greg for weeks. As an ensemble the quartet was outstanding in its excitement and flexibility. We audience roared.

This is not to overlook the excellence of the opening support duo of Hugh Vincent (piano) and Joel Stedman (flute and guitar). Some very nice impro, with a few early block chords reminiscent of Red Garland from Hugh, and such a pleasure to hear two so young musicians playing standards, something of a rarity these days. I dread the prospect of the words “One of my compositions” since they so often lead to loss of direction and interest. I didn’t hear them, just an obvious affection for tunes such as “Hackensack” and “Chelsea Bridge”. The youngsters more than whetted the appetite for the feast that followed.

by Alan Friswell

“Hi Greg, fantastic gig on Saturday. Already convinced by your previous visit I was even more awestruck by the way you handled Spike’s old tenor AND explained to us all what the difference between instruments of that vintage and more contemporary models are. Hope you are adapting to the ways of old Blighty and Look froward to seeing and hearing you again. As discussed on Saturday, I am attaching a couple of pics from the session which I’ve resampled to reduce size but I did take quite a few. Hopefully, they’ll get through in one email but if you need them bigger to print or anything stay in touch.” –

MICHAEL GAWTHORP

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