“Three tenor players getting nasty with each other – which is what you’ve all come to see, isn’t it?” Thus Ben Waghorn‘s introduction to a thorough working over of Coltrane’s Impressions, deep in the second set. Honest, guv, it wasn’t really. It was for the sheer joy of the sound of three of the big horns in such capable hands – Waghorn himself along with Nick Dover and Andy Sheppard in this case – bringing a big crowd back to the Mall after a week or two of cold nights keeping some punters (me) at home.
Granted people reach easily for gladiatorial or jousting metaphors when confronted with more than one saxophone, but there are other ways of doing it – mutual appreciation and inspiration are equally attractive prospects. And that was mainly what we got, backed by the quintessential Bristol rhythm section of Whitlam, Harris and Blomfield.
The latter three were as essential as the three horns, Will Harris getting off the blocks with a fine bass solo on the opening Wayne Shorter tune, Blomfield on piano rising to the challenge of pieces identified with Tyner and Hancock, Whitlam on drums stoking the fire throughout. His groove on the second tune, Hank Mobley’s Hi Voltage, wold have brought a smile to original drummer Billy Higgins’s face, I reckon.
So a bit of a Blue Note-leaning blowing session, then. Waghorn had arranged a few numbers but, in the way of uncountable informal jazz dates, had run out of time to provide a full evening’s worth, so we got a few solo features along the way – a fine rumination on My One and Only Love from him and How Deep is the Ocean (I think) from Dover. Add tunes from Hubert Laws (Bloodshot), Herbie Hancock (Wiggle Waggle from his early Mwandishi phase) and Coltrane and there was time for just one original – a splendid, loping tune from Harris titled Mosey.
As is also the way, the playing got better as the evening went on – or did it just seem so? No, I think it did. Dover, a less demonstrative player than the other two, sounded a tiny bit tentative at first, but was unfolding confident, inventive solos by the end. Waghorn, with a harder-edged tone, was magisterial throughout, and Sheppard took advantage of his broader range of timbres and effects – from smooching to shrieks – while raising his usual amused eyebrow when the others did something unexpected.
By the end, we’d heard a fine three-way conversaation about the finer points of horn playing. They could have called it saxophone summit, but that name’s already taken. They should do it again.