Steady Mercury

Martin Longley scribbles from inside The Red Lion’s maw, as Birmingham Jazz celebrates its 40th anniversary.

The Red Lion


As the Birmingham Jazz organisation begins to celebrate its 40th anniversary, the autumn gigs are now flowing fast and regularly at the Red Lion, in the Jewellery Quarter.

The most recent Friday session featured a young Manchester quintet with a decidedly directed approach. The Mercury mood involves a process that’s usually slow, studied, atmospheric and measured in its development. Each of their numbers progresses with a logical unveiling of its musical matter, carefully articulated.

They opened with Quicksilver, guesting guitarist Jim Faulkner and bassman Gavin Barras seated, underlining the relaxed character. Their delicate fuzzing, and drummer Alex Tod’s tentative cymbal-scrapes contributed to the slow arousal, with the beats having an appealing tendency to cut in slightly in anticipation of what might be considered the conventional moment.

The introversion continued with Hanging Gardens, as Tom Thorp’s bass clarinet replaced his dominant tenor saxophone for the next piece, switching again to soprano saxophone, with Richard Jones (from the Beats & Pieces Big Band) vamping hard via his electric piano sound-setting. Each number became gradually more ruffled as it continued, the following composition operating with soft dynamics, the maximum amount of restraint involved being almost as impressive as would be a barnstorming assault.

Thorp’s tenor riff fed a loping groove, crackling with faux Fender Rhodes, then crossing over into an acoustic upright piano solo. As the Michael Brecker-isms appeared in the tenor blowing, the band finally awakened, Two Meanings featuring a saxophone and drums tussle, then If We Were The Now pitched bass clarinet against further upright piano, the changes back to tenor and soprano coming fast, with Tod’s drums continuing to impress throughout.

Pic: Brian Homer