The Ray Layzelle/Jonathan Gee Quartet @ The Everyman Studio

Maybe it was the unfamiliarity of Ray Layzelle’s name that kept a proportion of less-than-curious jazz fans away tonight, but no matter; those that did show up experienced a treat. Ray is a man of many parts, saxophonist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer amongst them. Tonight he focused on the first two talents – as an alto sax virtuoso and accomplished tunesmith.

Backed by pianist Jonathan Gee, bassist Neville Malcolm and drummer Tristan Maillot, Layzelle launched into the self penned ‘And She Went Away’ with gusto. A lively opening number in the Parker/Coltrane mould, it set a positive patern for the evening; memorable melodies with hummable hooks, supplanted with solos that grew in substance as the night wore on. Ray’s decision to alternate original tunes with jazz standards proved to be an inspired one.

The first of those classics was ‘Mack the Knife’, which the quartet gave a crisp reading of and elaborated without every losing the song’s underlying sense of menace. Next came Ray’s ‘The Prince of Nelson’ – a tune dedicated to the late Purple Prince of Paisley Park and inspired by the melodramatic hit ‘Diamonds and Pearls’. Cast entirely in a swinging 5/4 tempo, it was lyrical and poignant and surprisingly catchy.

Lazelle demonstrated the calibre of his chops as well as his bebop schooling in Charlie Parker’s ‘My Little Suede Shoes’, during which Jonathan Gee’s habit of vocalising along with his solo seemed at its most prominent. It’s a mannerism that doesn’t meet with everybody’s taste but in this instance it did no harm.

The quartet closed the first half with ‘Serenity’, a tune Ray dedicated to South African saxaophonist Bheki Mseleku. It began with a rolling chordal intro leading to a 6/4 groove that put this listener in mind of Alice Coltrane or the Cinematic Orchester.

Two everygreen standards began the second set – ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘Body and Soul’, but it was Ray Layzelle’s ‘Don’t Be Late’ – a boppy tune he wrote shortly after dashing to catch a train – which was particularly arresting, especially with its cut-time passages simulating the frequent pauses or breath that inexperienced runners find themselves employing during their exertions. It also featured standout sax and bass solos amid the push and pull of the tempo changes.

Often attributed to Ellington and Strayhorn, Juan Tizol’s ‘Caravan’ was driven at high speed, hitched up to beathtaking solos from Layzelle and Gee, matched by an equally lithe bass excursion from Neville Malcolm. Mention at this point should be made of Tristan Maillot who sat in on the drum stool at short notice for Troy Miller – he ensured the whole charabanc kept on track.

After that we were all grateful of a chance to cool down and Sam Rivers’ achingly beautiful ‘Beatrice’ was a suitable way to close. Ray Layzelle divides his time between London and France and is currently recording his first album. His modesty would preclude him shouting about his talent, so maybe we should do it for him.

© 2017 Julia Price