Mike Willox Quartet/Emily Wright, Beaufort Arms, 28 July

Hello, live music, I’ve missed you. The nation’s jazz critics, and a few thousand others, gathered in the Festival Hall last week to pay silent homage (with coughs suppressed and definitely no photography) to Keith Jarrett’s uber-trio. Sod that: we broke our jazz famine with something at the other extreme. Mike Willox’ lively quartet played in a hot, crowded pub in an out of the way corner of Clifton – the nearest thing to music in your front room, if your front room happened to have a party going on at the time (apparently it was someone’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Sam, whoever you are).

That didn’t stop flamboyant violinist John Pearce opening the proceedings with some unaccompanied Bach, which silenced the room, then drew loud applause. I think Keith would have approved. But it was great to be up close, rather than peering across the arid wastes of the RFH. I’ve rarely had a stronger impression of the physicality of playing the violin – not just the sweat pouring off the man, but the whole body in motion behind the bow. Suspicions that the instrument is actually part of him were reinforced when it never left his hands during the gap between sets.

Willox, an amiable leader and fluent, driving pianist, was a little more laid back but got a nice sound out of a small, beat-up looking upright – definitely not Keith-worthy – and gelled with Will Harris on bass and a drummer who got extra brownie points for not drowning out the others in spite of being jammed in the corner. And there was an extra treat from Emily Wright, who delivered her vocals barefoot from the middle of the room with aplomb in spite of all the distractions, enhanced in the second half by the advent of enormous vats of chilli and quantities of cake which the party-goers consumed with enthusiasm.

Wright has a lightish voice, but real poise and excellent jazz chops. She rose above the cliches of Girl from Ipanema and made a lovely, fluid job of Afro-Blue, even though the lyrics added to that fine tune are pretty pointless. Pearce comped brilliantly, soloed ecstatically, and really went to town on Caravan, a tune which seems particularly well-suited to the violin. This jazzier setting allowed him to express himself a lot more freely than Moscow Drug Club’s more restricted style the other week, and he was furiously inventive throughout.

A great evening, and it certainly felt as if this little corner of the South West saw two stars in the making at work. Not much else around for a while, I think, but Brecon becons in a couple of weeks.

3 Comments

  1. What’s happened to you,Mike and to Emily Wright and the Royals; Will hasn’t e-mailed me with any news and updates since July-which is most unusual and alarming. I hope that the group hasn’t disbanded and that nothing bad has happened to any of you: But the vibes are bad from so long a silence; and I’ve not seen signs of you doing any gigs in the Bristol area lately,either

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