Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston | September 12th
This show is the fourth in a series of residencies by Darren Hayman in the delicious Vortex Jazz club. Tonight’s theme is ‘Piano ballads with Trumpets and Trombones’, but one of Hayman’s own lyrics, “I taught your pretty feet how to find the offbeat”, may be a better summation of the evening.
That’s because Darren is not merely here to deliver his songs about dogs and sex (every fan’s two favourite things), but also to educate. His introduction of the supporting musicians, Gail Brand and Mark Sanders, mentions that their music is something we’ve maybe “never heard before”. If it was anyone other than Darren, in his English teacher cardigan, giving us this speech then the musos in the audience might be indignant at such an assumption. But Hayman’s just too damn good at talking to rile us. So we sit, in a kind of silence only achievable in a venue that’s never been violated by electro, and take in half an hour of pure, improvisational jazz.
Unfortunately, your reviewer just isn’t quite smart or patient enough to enjoy it fully. Gail’s trombone (handled with the passion of a post-coital cigarette) and Mark’s drumming (embellished with the use of metallic diablos on cymbals) are undoubtedly excellent. They feed from each other imperceptibly like the world class musicians they are. But here’s the thing … we quite like pop music. Thanks Darren, but let’s get you on that piano.
Oddly for a ‘Piano ballads’ set, we begin with The Day you Arrive from The French’s entirely electronic album Local Information. It gets a sparse makeover with Darren at the piano and Donal ‘my-cheekbones-are-distracting’ Sweeney on the double bass. Hayman’s wit is lifted by the minimal accompaniment and a selection of songs from The Ship’s Piano that allow for anecdotal embellishment. The mood in the room is meditative with lyric-prompted giggles. A sporadic trumpet – the most damn emotionally manipulative of the horns – rouses and devastates in the hands of Steve Pretty.
To finish, Gail and Mark provide accompaniment whilst Hayman tells a story about West Ham, Chubb locks, and death. It’s perfect. Something finally slots into place; the shared matter between the jazz and the ballads becomes apparent. Hayman cleverly bares the perfect amount of soul.
As with all of Hayman’s wide-ranging projects, this residency is not for the sake of itself. Curative muscles are being flexed and old songs delicately dusted in the name of exploring a different kind of gig experience. And it’s certainly one worth having. Unless you’re a fidgeter, buy a ticket. For the December one. There’s going to be a secret santa.
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Words and Photo: Suzie McCracken