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  • Miles Hedley


It’s a measure of the status of Art Themen in the pantheon of British jazz musicians that fellow artists will turn out to watch him at work wherever he plays.

At Mycenae House, he led his quintet in a barnstorming set for an audience that included fellow saxophonist Mark Lockheart, legendary singer Norma Winstone and ace trombonist Cliff Hardie.

And Themen didn’t disappoint as he and pianist John Horler, trumpeter Henry Lowther, bassist Dave Green and drummer Dave Barry proved that even though they are all well into their 70s they can swing as lithely as any youngster.

It helps, of course, when you have a rhythm section as great as this one, particularly given that Barry, a man possessed of a miraculous left hand, was a last-minute replacement for Trevor Tomkins who pulled out through illness the previous evening. Together with Horler and Green he laid down a groove which allowed Themen and Lowther to create the musical spells that left us all entranced.

Themen set out his irresistible stall from the start, opening with Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation before swapping his tenor sax for a soprano in a stunning interpretation of Alice In Wonderland from the Disney film of the same name.

The quintet followed this with a glorious version of Clifford Brown’s Joy Spring and closed the first half with Bob Haggart’s gorgeous ballad What’s New? and Dexter Gordon’s pulsating Hanky Panky.

Part Two began with Lowther’s fabulous arrangement of Gertrude’s Bounce by Richie Powell which was especially noteworthy for the trumpeter’s brilliant solo and the band’s perfect synchronicity for the clever fade-out ending.

Barry’s skill at combining the thunderous with the subtle was given full rein in Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa and Lowther showed off his lyrical side in John Coltrane’s Body And Soul. It also showcased Horler’s consistently mesmerising piano-playing and Green’s gift for exploring the extremes of the double bass’s upper registers without ever losing sight of his rhythmic responsibilities.

Being a sax player, Themen couldn’t play a set that didn’t feature at least one Charlie Parker tune and he took the final musical honours of the evening with a typically great solo in Bird’s mysteriously-named but magnificent composition Au Privave.

The audience rightly gave the quintet a rapturous reception. A similar ovation should also be extended to concert organisers Global Fusion Music and Arts.

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