The Con Cellar Bar is one of our favourite venues; we’ve been regular visitors since its early days. It’s a rare and special space where you hear the music in all its purity: no need to mic up horns or the kick, just play as you are. It’s a secret you have to know about to get to, it’s slightly out of the way; you always bump into somebody you know, it’s always rammed, and the music is always, and I mean always, great. We’ve never heard a bad gig there.
So much is due to the faithful work of the late Rich Turner – whose dedication and passion for live music spread through a community of young jazz musicians, to make the Con a favourite of musicians and audiences of all generations. Now George Crowley, Dan Nicholls, Sam Jesson & Tom Challenger run the monthly Friday night. Remarkably, they’ve managed to get a double bill of the best jazz musicians in the country, for only a fiver each month. They do a great job. Perhaps this really IS London’s best kept secret. And we’ve just blogged it. Oh well, don’t tell too many people. It’s OURS!
So we’ll keep this brief. First off was Joe Wright’s Nightjar (see below for musicians/links/set). Set alight by Alice Zawadzki’s hauntingly beautiful vocals, the folk influences in harmony and rhythms were evident in Spencer’s writing before he told us one of his tunes was based on the 15th Century folk song, the Bonnie Banks of Fordie. The writing really is exquisite. The dovetailing of the vocal and sax lines was aurally mesmerising, and there is just so much space! Jeff Spencer on bass was a great example of the old cliché ‘less is more’. Grounding the group effortlessly, yet giving the sound time to breath was Spencer’s gift to the group. Playing around with tempos appears to be a Nightjar speciality. Several times they pulled back the tempo like a steam train, gradually grinding to a perfect halt. On the other end of the spectrum we really enjoyed Laura Stands Tall with the repeated firey opening line ‘A total lack of respect’ crying out throughout the song. Spencer’s electronic effects with tenor sax brought an other-worldness to the already dreamlike folk vibe, and James Maddren on drums brought spacious complexity to the mix. We were excited to find out that you can watch Nightjar’s Strange Placeshere.
After the traditional raffle (who could resist the chance of winning Sainsbury’s wine, a firework, or top prize, a toffee apple?) Freddie Gavita’s Quartet emerged (again see below for musicians/links/sets). A group of friends who clearly play together often (much laughing, conversation & in-jokes whilst playing) this was a night where Gavita pulled out many of his old well-loved tunes. Our favourite was the more groove based Turnaround featuring a storming piano solo by Tom Cawley, with fierce playing from James Maddren to finish it off. Maddren’s playing so captured performers and audiences alike – that Gavita immediately commented ‘Thanks James – that’s fabulous mate’. Last up was The Buffalo Trace – which holds a very special connection to us. Fred toured with us to Kentucky, and this song is named after a beautiful whiskey produced at a distillery we visited. Fred played beautifully over this tune, the lilting melody reflecting the southern-American state. Mick Coady on bass brought out some stellar sounds to the chilled out last song. It was a great second set. Fred’s natural charm and humility had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.