So the last night of the London Jazz festival and you can imagine what might have been in the unrestricted freedom of pre-COVID times. Tenderlonious and chums playing a selection of earthy, energetic jazz funk from across the 22a catalogue to a jumping crowd rammed into the grand Victoriana of Shoreditch Town Hall. Sadly for 2020 it was not to be and watching the live stream of the show that went ahead without punters, the ornate surroundings seemed to cast some gloomy shadows.
At least the music refused to be weighed down by the emptiness of the surroundings. Tonight’s quartet, Ed Cawthorne aka.Tenderlonious (flutes and sax), Nick Walters (trumpet), Aidan Shepherd (keys) and Tim Carnegie (drums), set up in a tight huddle on stage, determined to generate their own heat and momentum. They are a group that know each other’s playing intimately as they make up the nucleus of Cawthorne’s 22a stalwarts ‘Ruby Rushton’, so the indications were that they would take the session head on without any messing.
Sure enough the first number was ’11 Grapes’ from the Ruby Rushton’s ‘Ironside’ album, attacked with confidence and assurance from the first bar to the last. It began sweetly enough with some bright flute and electric piano interplay from Tenderlonious and Shepherd, locking together in a melodic riff. Walters and drummer Carnegie then joined building the same pattern up to a teasing crescendo before the bass synth eased in with some swaying deep funk. From there on the band had reached full throttle, the driving rhythm pushing them forward and urging the soloists to reach those highs.
The power, verve and daring of the Tenderlonious flute was a revelation in this live setting. He doesn’t pretend to be a virtuoso (Cawthorne amazingly only started playing at the age of 23) but his searing swoops and dives are fearless, they always thrill. As a sound-seeker he is also unafraid of adding electronics and, whether reverb or harmoniser, he knows how to use them in the right place at the right time. The two tunes featured in the set from trumpeter Nick Walter’s solo album ‘Active Imagination’, highlighted the band impressively developing such a wall of sound. On ‘Ahimsa’ the layers of trumpet, set first against a gentle bossa rhythm and then around the Tenderlonious flute lines, created a shimmering atmosphere of Zawinul/Weather Report proportions. Then on ‘Dansoman Last Stop’ Cawthorne’s heavily echoing solo was the perfect foil for the tune’s pumping bassline and Latin- jazz inflections.
Maybe it was the band’s commitment to play numbers from a range of recordings on the 22a label that inspired them to push so inventively. Sure the Ruby Rushton staples that they played were all dynamite, from the slinky soul funk smoothness of ‘One mo’ Dram’ to the super tight horn riffing on ‘Spritely Does It’. But the cover of Tubby Hayes ‘Raga’ reached out even further with its pastoral- prog tinged intro on the piccolo and eastern flavoured melody lines. Less subtle but equally dynamic was the storming jazz dance crossover ‘SV Disco’ from the Tenderlonious and 22 Archestra album ‘The Shake down’. As the pounding ‘four to the floor’ got reconstructed, our man Cawthorne injected some spidery mini- synth before pulling out the funkiest flute solo of the evening that even set his broad shoulders jigging and twitching.
All too soon the set hot stepped its way to a conclusion with a charged version of Ruby Rushton’s ‘Triceratops/The Caller’, connecting the garage rhythms, broken beat funk and soul jazz soundtrack with dizzying fluency. As the band downed tools the camera panned up to one of the Town Hall’s regal balconies. There 22a DJ Dennis Ayler was lining up a punchy mix of soul, funk and expertly curated samples to play to the deserted hall. These closing images seemed in many ways sobering and poignant. London Jazz Festival 2020 had done brilliantly to stay afloat, to provide musicians and technicians with much needed work, to deliver a staggering selection of modern jazz for viewers but essentially the event had lost its heartbeat- the live audience. So here’s to 2021 and the punters return from the wilderness.
Photographer credit: Emile Holba