Tony Kofi Quintet Hop On A Cannonball Run At Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre

It was Alan Barnes who once said, "Dead names sell seats", but it would be quite wrong to ascribe such base motives to 'A Portrait Of Cannonball'.

Pianist Alex Webb is its instigator and the success of this fusion of narrative and performance owes much to his selection of pieces to play and milestones to mention, but most of all to Tony Kofi and his group who approached the material here with the kind of full-on gusto that Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley himself would have loved.

Kofi’s presentation has already garnered all sorts of appreciation on its various nationwide appearances and looks set to continue, and why not for the set-up is great and the music quite splendid. Sticking to alto throughout, Kofi doesn’t seek to replicate the late Cannonball’s exact sound or style, but instead brings his own searing intensity and positive complexity to every solo he plays. He speaks too, alternating snatches of Adderley’s life story with Webb, each song properly placed in Cannon’s canon, so to speak, thus the gutsy ‘Bohemia After Dark’ referencing Adderley’s chance visit to Café Bohemia in New York, this the springboard for his adoption by the New York jazz cognoscenti. Kofi led this off with a passionate, fast-moving exploration, urged by Andy Cleyndert’s vibrant basslines and the cleverly intricate drumming of Alfonso Vitale and Webb’s piano prompting. Good, too, to cite trumpeter Andy Davies’s participation here, for this young player is keen to impress and brings a thoughtful consideration to his solos, hot and centred, the ideas on the boil, his ensemble linkages with Kofi quite perfect.

The Riverhouse Barn in Walton-on-Thames is just that, a converted half-timbered period building by the Thames, spacious, the bandstand at its centre, contemporary jazz a monthly feature, Kofi having attracted a decent, near-capacity audience who warmed to his personable manner immediately, while reserving the louder part of their applause for singer Deelee Dubé’s recall of Nancy Wilson’s collaboration with Adderley. In truth, her voice is lustier than the late Ms Wilson’s with rather more of a gospel feel, but she’s a crowd-pleaser with serious vocal capabilities, stretching the lyrics on ‘Never Will I Marry’, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’, ‘Happy Talk’ and the rest in invigorating fashion. Victor Feldman’s ‘Azule Serape’ was a highlight, its theme enabling Kofi to insert a quote or two while bearing down strongly on the beat, with Davies pulling out all the stops; Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeannine’ and ‘Unit Seven’ by Sam Jones later eliciting the kind of ensemble groove that seems like hard-bop heaven. Take that as a capsule description for the entire concert. 

Story and photo by Peter Vacher 

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