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Transpennine Express

The Gregson Centre, Lancaster
Friday 29 February 2008
reviewed by Brian Sadler

A new venture, a regular monthly dose of listenable contemporary jazz by a new band, Transpennine Express, in a new venue, the Gregson's Ivy Room. The intimate setting of the Ivy Room with its very reasonable bar prices, the opportunity to dance, a modest £3 entrance and music that had an audience of all ages both jumping and entranced, made for a great night out.

Transpennine Express, whilst new to Lancaster, is an established five-piece combo featuring Mark Foxcroft, sax; Richard Fusco, drums; Chris Irelan-Bunting, trombone; Ken Johnston, bass, and James Wood, guitar.

Their style brings together jazz standards such as "Milestones" with the highly danceable African rhythms of "Mandela" - shades of Abdullah Ibrahim - and an interesting new composition, "Leaving", by Johnston, whilst Foxcroft showed great wit and invention on numbers such as "Kelly Blue". Jazz is difficult to describe, but this music got a very mixed to audience to relax, to occasionally dance and, most of all, to listen. It was an impressive performance.

The 'interval' was equally impressive. It saw the debut of singer Rachel Davis. A slight figure, sitting on a stool, accompanied by Johnston on bass, her clear and plaintive rendition of songs like "Bye Bye Blackbird" had the audience silent and on the edge of their seats, listening to the words as if for the first time. Really, really special, she is someone to listen out for.

Next up was the aptly-named Adverse Camber, an apparently perverse combination of two double basses, Johnston being joined by the highly talented George McKay. The result was both aurally and visually arresting, as two huge instruments nodded and waved their way through a set of four bluesy improvisations, including Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I didn't know double bass could take the top line. It was magical.

Transpennine really rocked in the second set, but ran out of time before they could get to the end of the advertised playlist. More music, much less irrelevant talk might have helped here. They finished on an arrangement of "Caravan" the Duke himself would have been happy with.

They are back on 21 March, Good Friday, upstairs in
the Gregson, 8.30 - 11.00. Don't miss them.

© Bryan Sadler
March 2008


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