Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1097

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Byron Wallen's Four Corners: PizzaExpress Live, Holborn, London 3/2/20

Byron 1
Byron 1 Byron 2 Rob1 Byron 3 Rod Youngs Rob luft 2 Byron 4 Paul Michael Byron 4

Tonight folks, London got a glimpse of what it was actually like to experience WWII as an unexploded bomb, unearthed from that era, had been discovered in Soho's Dean Street hours before the show. So, after some natural chaos had ensued, the good planners of PizzaExpress Jazz had the novel idea of changing the gig to their sister branch, up the road in the safer environs of Holborn. Suffice to say the venue was packed and the hum and the buzz was noticeable from the off.

Wallen's electric band were in top form with tightness, empathy and plenty of light and shade dynamically. They were relaxed and in the zone. The lithe Rod Youngs, my favourite drummer, grooved heavily, emboldened by the spry electric bass of Paul Michael, allowing Wallen to express himself in an unshackled fashion (he effuses a joyous sense of freedom) whilst presenting his startling new opus "Portrait" a kind of love letter to Woolwich and a realisation of finding beauty and diversity in a much-maligned area of deepest south London.

Shades of Miles electric period pervaded and the cathedral-like tones of sonic architect/guitarist Rob Luft (a British version of Bill Frisell) were a joy to behold. An incredibly fluid musician who is 'in his physical body' too. His lines seem to splash colours over Wallen's eclectic compositions. He comes in waves too, as if he were Jackson Pollock scattering paint on a new canvas. Like his bandleader, he knows how to create a compelling atmosphere as well as tell a story with call and response conversations with the master trumpeter. A definite 'Monsta Monsta' alert!

The soft-spoken and thoughtful Wallen is quite Blakean with his own homespun philosophy and he likes to share it between numbers. This was a nice touch, shards of insight and sufi wisdom got relayed. The Conches (an actual shell-like wind instrument) added the deepest spiritual jazz vibe too, especially when they were looped which was something I'd never witnessed even though, it set my tinnitus off, I was enthralled by this. Tunes such as "Pink', an endearing eulogy to Harry Beckett', "Anthem" segueing into "From The Womb To The Tomb"
and "Freedom Struggle" were particular highlights of the evening and the sounds of this versatile electric outfit resonated long after the show had stopped. Danger UXB Wallen is back and he happens to be at the peak of his considerable, creative powers.

Words Emrys Baird

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