REVIEW: by John Watson, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton UK

Bassist Gary Crosby has long been a key figure on the scene, and he has the knack of creating some exceptional musical surprises.

As the boss of Dune Music, as artistic director of Tomorrow’s Warriors and as leader of the Jazz Jamaica All Stars and his bands Nu Troop and Guava, Gary established himself as a key figure on the scene, working with major established artists and also providing a platform for a great deal of exciting new talent.

His current band – Groundation – marks another milestone in the bassist’s career, featuring him with three acclaimed young players: alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey (of Empirical), guitarist Shirley Tetteh, and drummer Moses Boyd. On Friday the musicians battled their way from London through the storms and reached the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton to start their concert right on time.

The performance began in relaxed and low-key style, including a pleasantly loping tune by Facey, Midnight Stroll. However, Crosby’s bowed bass ushered in a stupendous work, Ode To Ornette Coleman, which developed into a captivating modal vamp and featured passionate, furiously intense playing from Facey and drummer Boyd. It’s rare to hear the saxophonist away from the setting of Empirical, but he just gets better every time I hear him, while the young Boyd is a real discovery – he’s already a sophisticated musician, and is surely a name to watch for the future. Boyd is also developing as a composer, with a penchant for quirky titles, including Liver Quiver  (“I can’t get him to explain what it means,” Crosby told the audience).

Facey created a semi-abstract introduction for Sonny Rollins’ classic composition Oleo (which is based on one of the most-used chord sequences in jazz, I Got Rhythm), with stabbing phrases from the alto, subtle hints at the tune to come, and gradually building into a driving version of the piece, with Tetteh’s West Indian-style chord work underpinning some exceptional soloing from the saxophonist.

The concluding number – which Crosby invited the audience to dance to, without success – opened with a riff from Facey that mixed playing and singing through the instrument. It reminded me strongly of the intro to Herbie Hancock’s catchy reworking of his hit Watermelon Man for the album Head Hunters, in which the riff is started by Bill Summers combining singing and flute-like sounds using a beer bottle, a technique derived from the Pygmy music of Central Africa.

Following Facey’s solo intro, Groundation’s tune also developed into a strongly funky, toe-tapping groove. Gary was right. We really should have danced.


London Jazz News by Rosie Walters, Marlborough Jazz Festival July 20 2013

Despite stiff competition from the treasure chest of performers, the absolute highlight of the whole day, had to be Gary Crosby’s Groundation…Crosby and his breathtakingly talented young band played a near two hour set, that everyone wished that could have gone on for longer. New material, much of which was written by Crosby and his band, was mixed with a few new arrangements of old classics. All veterans of Crosby’s…Tomorrow’s Warriors, this group of musicians had only played together 3 or 4 times before, but were so in sync that I found that hard to believe. Alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey stole the limelight with beautifully complex drawn out solos, played with minimal movement and pretty much redefining what cool looks like. He was approached afterwards by one particularly enamoured fan who told him that he was ‘absolutely beyond magnificent’ which describes his skill pretty much spot on. ‘Liver Quiver’ written by drummer Moses Boyd was a particular highlight, as was ‘Anansi’s dance’ a piece written by Crosby and based on Jamaican folklore. Crosby announced at the end that he was going to finish “a long set with a long piece’” which turned out to be a brilliantly complicated new arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ Oleo that really shouldn’t have worked, but somehow did, and had everyone quietly tapping their feet. 


Ancient to Future Feb 2 2013 Jazz In The Round, Cockpit Theatre, London

It was left to Jazz Jamaica/Tomorrow’s Warriors/ Dune Records don, Gary Crosby to close the night. The bassist has a solid record of working with and mentoring new generation of young players and this night was no exception. This latest venture is called Groundation – a term used by the Rastafari to describe a get together…a reasoning. Empirical alto-ist Nathaniel Facey kicked off the set with an extended ‘Tribute To OC’. (Ornette Coleman not Orange County!) that also introduced us to an undaunted, head nodding new talent, guitarist Shirley Tetteh. A Crosby composition which was dedicated to his other half and tentatively called ‘Dearest’ was graceful and touching and the bassist was clearly chuffed with the live outcome. However, it was the spacious, loose limbed, rhythm showers from drummer Moses Boyd that had this listener transfixed. As painter Gina Southgate said to him after the show, “So nice to see someone smiling while they are playing!

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