Jazz Jamaica Get The Party Started At Hideaway

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Monday, 19 December 2011
It was standing room only for Jazz Jamaica at Hideaway in Streatham at the weekend as gig-goers came out in force all over London and up and down the country for some much needed seasonal jazz cheer.

While bassist Gary Crosby’s band owe their origins to the Alpha School generation of top Jamaican jazz talent exported all over the world particularly to the UK, and veteran Jamaican musicians the likes of Rico Rodriguez and Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton that Crosby assembled during the band’s early life in the 1990s, a new mostly homegrown generation of musicians has kept the flame alive within Jazz Jamaica’s ranks ever since. Crosby remains as Jazz Jamaica’s guiding light and driving inspiration.

Opening deep in Skatalites territory with ‘Guns of Navarone’ Jazz Jamaica are ready for a busy 2012 which, as Crosby told the lively audience, marks 50 years of Jamaica’s independence. This relatively new version of the group is well primed certainly on this showing to return to heartland blue beat, ska, lovers rock and soul jazz with some new latin-based material in prototype mode also entering the band book and a good version of Cape Verdean tinged hard bop in the great Horace Silver’s ‘Señor Blues.’

Hideaway voted venue of the year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards this year was well equipped to deal with a band that needed little introduction to the club. Last year’s equivalent gig, the venue’s director Fran Strachan explained as Jazz Jamaica were building up a head of steam on the stage behind her, was hit by snow and some “100 people were forced to cancel”. No such weather intervention this time and the supper club venue, which also hosts popular comedy nights, and has increased in size since the summer, was nicely full. January will also see the opening of a sister café around the corner on Streatham High Road, on the site of a 1960s Streatham jazz club.

Familiar Jazz Jamaica faces such as saxophonist Denys Baptiste, guitarist Robin Banerjee, trombonist Harry Brown impressive as ever, percussionist Pete Eckford and drummer Rod Youngs with Crosby on particularly fine form were joined by relative newcomers, trumpeter Mark Crown, pianist Ben Burrell, and alto sax playerCamilla George on the Hideaway stage. ‘Double Barrel’, went down very well, but it was Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ that got large sections of the middle of the room moving, and breakout dancing developed fanning out from the tables where people had earlier eaten supper.

As well as the instrumentalists upcoming south London singer Keisha Downie joined for several numbers. Wearing a white dress with a strong lovers rock voice and on jazzier runs a slight touch of Dianne Reeves about her, she almost stole the show with her assured version of ‘My Boy Lollipop’ towards the end, the Millie hit that ushered in bluebeat and reggae flavours to the UK in 1964. Banerjee, Beckford, Youngs, Crosby and Burrell kept up a mighty rhythm throughout and sometimes with Banerjee (most obviously on ‘Surfin’’) it was reminiscent of Crosby’s uncle the inspirational Ernest Ranglin who sometimes appears with the band. Jason Yarde jumped up from the audience later in the two-hour set to guest with some gutsy crab-like alto sax improvising that clearly spurred on the other front line players and earned huge smiles from Camilla George standing alongside whose own soulful riffing is coming on all the time. Jazz Jamaica didn’t forget the seasonal touches and when Keisha Downie came back at the end Christmas certainly came early in Streatham this year. – Stephen Graham

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