On Wednesday 9th February Cafédral, the usual daytime study spot was entirely reimagined. More akin to a downtown Jazz club than a popular student coffee house, it provided the perfect setting for the first ‘After Hours’ session of the Durham University Jazz Society Calendar.
Drenched in warm atmospheric lighting and surrounded by an abundance of plants and greenery, its intimate ambience would prove to be the perfect setting for a packed audience for the next two hours. For many, the return to live music has been heavily anticipated, with us all learning to get back on with our lives in a post-pandemic world, the buzz of being back in the room where the music is being made seemed now such a privilege. An event such as ‘After Hours’ presents itself as an attractive occasion for many students — a chance to relax and unwind after a long day studying in the library, a chance to bathe in the sounds of live music once again.
The Durham Jazz scene has exploded in recent years, with greater numbers of students taking both an interest and getting involved. With the University’s long-established tradition of high standard big bands, now accompanied by increasing smaller scale Jazz ensembles catering to a plethora of sub-genres, styles and abilities, the Jazz scene in Durham appears stronger now than ever.
This strength was clear in the line-up of the ‘After Hours’ quintet, providing a fantastic insight into the level of young Jazz talent amongst Durham’s student population.
The theme of the night was ‘An Evening of Standards’ and the well-curated set certainly lived up to its title. The programme, packed full of well-known classics from Davis to Monk, would have satisfied any Jazzophile, also proving a great introductory taster to any rookie listener and providing a refreshing contrast to the society’s weekly Jazz Jams.
Covering a comprehensive variety of genres and Jazz styles, the programme didn’t disappoint.
Opening with Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’, the quintet proposed a recognisable invitation to the audience, a glimpse of what was to come over the next couple of hours. Clear from the opening few bars, the musicianship of the quintet was of a high standard; often having to remind myself that I was watching an entirely student-led performance. The rhythm section, comprising; Ewan Thomas (Bass), Freddie Krone (Drums) and Daniel Goodwin (Keys and Organ), barely missed a beat all night. The trio’s chemistry was admirable, and the dialogic relationship of their playing was refreshing and made for entertaining listening. Of particular note, Goodwin’s comping throughout the night was sophisticated, well-formed, and incredibly tasteful, never overplayed. This was made apparent by the onstage musical back and forth shared with Thomas and Krone, each making use and playing off of one other throughout the night.
The opening few tracks, found the rhythm section accompanied by one of two lead players, Multi-Sax and wind instrumentalist Alex Wardill. A competent, and often ethereal player, Wardill’s tone on both Tenor and Baritone Sax was smooth throughout, with his multifaceted soloing providing fun and refreshing listening, making noble use of each instrument’s range and full tonal qualities through tasteful melodic interpretation. The final member to join the group on stage was the vocalist for the evening, Jazz Society Co-President, Elen Clarke. ‘Jim’ was the first standard of the set that treated us to her enchanting vocals, never overworking, and making many challenging runs sound effortless; Clarke’s tone was mature and timeless. On occasion, reminiscent of the classic sound of Lady Day, with her scatting ability being of a respectable standard for such a young vocalist.
Split into two halves, a clear highlight of the performance was the closing track of the first set. Playing homage to Jazz titan, Chick Corea, with arguably his most established composition, Spain, the track proved a fitting choice given the composers passing on the same day, a year prior. Full of energy and intensity, the quintet certainly did the track justice, as was clear from the audience’s engaged reaction, in addition to showcasing some of the best examples of soloing from the night.
After a brief interval, the quintet proceeded to perform a further six standards. Beginning with A Night in Tunisia, the second set of the evening was of a different character to the first, summarised by this choice of the opening track perfectly. Worthy of note was the group’s version of Skylark. A firm favourite at many of the weekly society Jazz Jams, the quintet’s interpretation was incredibly tasteful and beautifully phrased, certainly up to the mark. Highlighted by Krone’s fantastic dexterity on the kit and Thomas’ fluent navigation of the fingerboard.
As the evening drew to a close and the final notes faded I found myself wanting more, a realisation of how much I had missed live music. My only criticism of the quintet’s performance was that they couldn’t have gone on playing for longer. A brilliantly curated gig, the After Hours series proves to be a spectacle you won’t want to miss.
Photography: Thomas Tomlinson