This show at St John's Church on Bethnal Green was part of both the EFG London Jazz festival 2023 and the Daylight Music series, which is why it has the earliest start time of any show I've been to this year, with today's headliners The Near Jazz Experience with Davey Payne opening proceedings at 12.05 on Saturday Lunchtime in this rather foreboding Sir John Soane church.
Terry Edwards had curated this show for The London Jazz festival and had persuaded one of his musical heroes Davey Payne to join the band for this special performance. If at any point in this review, I use the correct song titles it is accidental.
On arriving in the church and finding a pew this afternoon's interlude pianist Pete Saunders was tinkling away on the church's grand piano, mainly playing selections of 70's and 80's pop hits and TV Themes from bands other than Dexy's Midnight Runners for whom he was the original keyboard player, his sets were nice and laid back.
The show opened with the core trio of The NJE of Simon Charterton, Mark Bedford and Terry Edwards who opened with number 440 St John's Blues that had some cool, sinuous bass decorated with Terry's sax lines that cut through the churches austere atmosphere with a bejeweled knife.
Terry then introduced the bands special weapon for today's show Davey Payne who's the second Blockhead I've seen this month following on from seeing Norman Watt-Roy a week earlier, in the intervening week I was sent the new Chaz Jankel & Michael Messer album to review, so I seem to be having a Blockhead November, of course Terry Edwards has also played as Davey's replacement in The Blockheads as well. The first tune they did with the expanded line-up was Number 480 Romans On The Road as Terry was playing alto and soprano sax Davey joined in with a small horn, before switching to his Bass sax and as this sounded more like a funky Cannonball Adderley tune Davey added some whistle on the outro.
For Number 449 Bus For Sarah Tankel a tune that for me at least evoked childhood memories from the early 1970's of coming out of Bethnal Green tube station before we took the bus to Sarah Tankel House in Highbury to visit one of my great aunts, although thankfully this had none of the danger that was using the toilets next to the church, that are now a chi chi cafe, but back then were the haunt of junkies and the odd pervert, Terry was playing lots of bluesy high notes on his Soprano sax that dovetailed with what Davey was playing on the Bass sax as Mark Bedford's sinuous bassline held it together just as Terry added some maraca to replicate the shaking windows on that bus.
The church was swinging for Number 417 Central Line West that had the three-sax attack that at times felt like the scraping of train wheels as Simon Charterton's super steady beat had something of the tunnel sounds as they headed further west.
They then went beyond the 4 tunes listed on the Hymn board as we got to number 173 Stairwell Fugue to the memory of the 173 victims of the Bethnal Green disaster across the road from the church in World War 2 an event one of my grandma's would endlessly talk about, as it was one of the times they chose not to go to that shelter, Terry played some long slow languorous notes on his clarinet allowing us to sit and reflect on the tragedies of war.
The set came to it's conclusion with a masterful blast through number 425 Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) with Terry playing pocket trumpet while Davey started off playing finger cymbals before switching to a blue horn that he began by appearing to play it by blowing into the centre of the finger board before some more traditional flurries of notes to match what Terry was playing on his Soprano sax giving this a great free funk feel and a brilliant way to end a great set.
During the short change-over we had a word of three from our hosts from Daylight Music and some more of Pete Saunders lunchtime classics perfect for eating cake too.
It was then time for Rachel Horton-Kitchlew quartet of Rachel on Harp, with a lap steel player, David Bardon on bass and Oscar Sholto Robertson on drums they opened with a very laid back 70's soundtrack jazz style tune with lots of florid playing from Rachel who I was hoping would have more of an Alice Coltrane influence than she did.
Rachel then introduced her special guest vocalist Alice Boyd who sang one of her own songs Growth that was a very gentle almost bucolic song about climate change as the lap steel and harp dovetailed enchantingly.
They then played a deliciously laid-back cover of Glory Box that brought out the jazzier more classical leanings within that now standard tune. Dulse Your Pulse almost sounded like Rachel was trying to make her harp sound more like a dulcimer it has a gentle edge drawing you into what they were doing in a very laid-back restrained way.
For Cascades In The Palisades both Rachel and her lap steel player seemed to be trying to get the sound to cascade down around us in the church, evoking feelings of sunshine and sitting outdoors on a warm summer evening rather than a chilly Saturday lunchtime in Bethnal Green.
They closed with Laidback Jack that had some intricate interplay between her bassist and the drummer that went a little counter to what Rachel and the lap steel player were up to, it was intriguing.
Pete Saunders came back to play some cool TV Themes that gave few hints at his time as a young soul rebel.
Terry Edwards then gave a short speech explaining who everyone on today's bill was, why he asked them along to this show, while making sure we knew how they all connected up together, then he introduced Yova who had John Cale's old manager Mark Vernon playing various instruments alongside Alex Thomas on bass who I last saw playing with John Cale at The Palladium earlier in the year, but who started his career in Bolt Thrower and has also worked in Squarepusher and Air among others.
They opened with Stars Collide a slow rather downbeat song that allowed Jova Radevska to add layers of emotion in her Bjork like vocals. Left Behind had some very cool laid-back guitar from Mark Vernon.
They went even more downbeat on I Could Never Say Goodbye as the regrets of what happened to tear you apart are laid out. Mark Vernon then switched to electric piano for What Happened another dark tale that was in keeping with the paintings of the stations of the cross that adorn the walls of the church.
Yova kept things downbeat and sad for Nothings What It seems a song of betrayal with an uneasy feeling of impending dread running through it.
Jova then told us they were playing the bands latest single Dreamcatchers that had Mark playing his acoustic guitar on this quite intoxicating song that was also the catchiest song of their set.
They then played another heartbreaker A Better Solution For Me that seemed to suggest it was time to move on, before any more pain is inflicted. Mark then switched back to electric guitar for I Can Hear The Rain which as it was only a light drizzle was quite something, but this still had a dark heart with plenty of pain at its heart.
Jova then introduced the bands special guest saxophonist a certain Mr Terry Edwards as they concluded with The Thrill Has Gone that stripped back B.B. Kings classic to its bare bones as Mark Vernon's acoustic guitar was slow and steady while Terry provided the weeping sax notes a cool way to end a very nice lunch time recital.