Last Sunday, Noel Dennis, Paul Edis and Andy Champion took to the stage at The Globe in Newcastle as the Noel Dennis Trio. As three very well-known players in the North East, the trio were much-anticipated by the audience – and having a live audience in the room again created an amazing buzz which could be felt even through the livestream. With Noel Dennis on trumpet and flugel as lead, Edis on keys and Champion on double bass, there was nothing to do as a listener but just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. These three incredibly accomplished players chose a varied set of classics which they refreshingly reshaped, reworked and renewed over the course of the evening – from trad to bebop to cool jazz, there was something for everyone. Featuring lengthy solos, the pieces were similarly standard in structure – yet the content was anything but standard. Filling almost two hours of music, the trio danced around one another, listening and responding to each other’s lyricism, tasteful experimentalism, and in-the-pocket swing. The set’s variety was astounding considering how many standards and famous songs were picked, including tunes by Miles Davis, Cole Porter, Charlie Parker, and more. The performance somehow maintained a consistently new, exciting and engaging set which was both impressive and compelling to listen to throughout – what a brilliant evening of music.
Miles Davis was a clear influence on the trio, as the set featured four pieces from his world-famous album Kind of Blue. The trio played ‘Blue In Green’ followed by ‘Bitches Brew’ in the first set, and later ‘Love For Sale’ followed by ‘All Blues’. With Edis acting as the Bill Evans stand-in on ‘Blue In Green’, there was an immediate hush from the audience as he beautifully introduced the piece. The tasteful choices made by all three players on this tune were insightful, proving that often what’s needed more than anything in a solo is space and intention. Dennis’ control when playing with a harmon was extremely impressive to watch, as he chose the perfect moments on which to crescendo and then fall, bringing power and then subtlety. ‘Blue In Green’ then transitioned slowly into ‘Bitches Brew’; Edis’ piano sound switched to a Wurli and immediately the atmosphere changed. The responsive listening from all three musicians was incredible on this tune, especially as they began to make more experimental choices in their solos – the groove was infectious, with Edis playing some really gospel-inspired, soulful ideas alongside Champion. The tune definitely had more of a modern and explorative feel, lending itself to the variety of the set and providing a completely different emotional timbre.
In contrast, the trio also played lots of classic jazz standards, such as ‘Beautiful Love’, ‘Recordame’ and ‘Stella By Starlight’. However, there was nothing typical about their solos – the trio made their mark on every tune, playing with precision, warmth, and yet with ideas which had an edge to them. The best jazz gigs are those which constantly surprise and delight you, breaking your expectations in the most satisfying of ways – and the Noel Dennis Trio certainly did that. Dennis’ tone on ‘Beautiful Love’, at once breathy and sharp, warm and cold, was a pleasure to listen to. Likewise, Champion’s swinging grooves, helped along by Edis and his bluesy rhythmic choices, were inspiring. What struck me about the whole set was the narrative quality to every solo, and the way in which the players dynamically shaped their ideas, with thought and intention. Edis’ chord melodies in particular were a pleasure to listen to on many of the pieces, and his surprising nods to other players and quotes of other standards. The first set ended with ‘Nostalgia in Times Square’, a Mingus tune which was incredible, in-the-pocket swing which allowed the trio to show off their brilliant ensemble playing. The laidback feel was accentuated by the trio’s unison, and some incredible call and response.
The second set opened with a funky take on ‘Love For Sale’, featuring some new rhythmic choices which allowed the trio to really put their stamp on the well-known piece. Dennis seemed to nod to Roy Hargrove at points with some soulful ideas, whilst Edis nodded to Oscar Peterson and his famous tremolos. This moved smoothly into ‘All Blues’, another Davis tune, which again featured beautiful solos with a strong blues influence – Edis’ solo in particular was intensely packed with interesting choices. The trio set up really allowed each individual player to shine, as they were given space to solo at length whilst also sensitively listening to one another. Although the texture often felt sparse, that was the point – the trio set up really illuminates each musician’s individuality, and exposes their vulnerability. ‘Moon Alley’, a Tom Harold tune, provided some more modern and experimental ideas, featuring a very sensitive solo from Champion on double bass. The way in which the players moved beneath one another, orchestrating the rise and fall of the piece’s intensity, was extremely skillful and perceptive. Charlie Parker’s ‘Au Privave’ then finished the set, with the hardest swing we’d heard all night. The faster tempo really allowed all of the musicians to show us their playing in a high pressure environment, and the intensity definitely increased because of it. Champion bowed his solo in a nod to a more old school sound, and it felt as though everyone’s final tricks were thrown into the mix, to end the set with a bang.
The Noel Dennis Trio are an incredibly virtuosic set of players who came together last Sunday to perform a varied set of tracks which were both well-known and refreshing. Dennis, Edis and Champion managed to strike the perfect balance between tastefulness and innovation, between the classic jazz sound and exploration. Although the audience already knew almost all of the pieces, the band renewed them through each individual solo, creating a new narrative and forging their own sound. Nodding to the greats – Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus – the trio managed to do justice to these classic tunes which are often played and leave audiences disappointed. They didn’t just respect the music, but in fact reshaped it into their own sound, providing a wonderful evening of music to an avid audience. The sensitivity of the listening, the sparseness of the trio set up, and the innovation of the solo improvisation all contributed to the performance’s admirable success – what a brilliant collection of players!
Author: Evie Hill
Image: Screenshots – Ken Drew