Review: Peter Lemer at Pizza Express

Veteran pianist Peter Lemer played the Pizza Express Soho to mark the re-release of Local Colour. Roger Farbey declares the event a night to remember

A capacity crowd at Pizza Express enthusiastically greeted pianist Peter Lemer’s band for a reunion gig celebrating the reissue on ESP of his debut album Local Colour. Coincidentally, there was a celebratory incentive for the concert as Lemer told the crowd he was now in possession of some 50 years of back royalties for the record.

Another cause for festivity was the fact that he had managed to retain the services of the original musicians who played on the 1966 LP. The exception to this line-up was the absence of tenor saxophonist Nisar Ahmad (aka George) Khan who had been struck down with the lurgi. Happily his deputy for the night was Alan Skidmore.

The other members of the all-star band included John Surman on baritone and soprano, Tony Reeves on double bass and Jon Hiseman on drums (Reeves, Surman and Skidmore pictured right). Incidentally, with Surman and Skidmore on front-line duties, a duo rarely seen these days, there was a strong reminiscence of the heady days with the trio S.O.S., sadly bereft of Mike Osborne. The two saxophonists conjured up some almost magical harmonies between them and though both are well into their 70s neither showed any loss of power or dexterity.

The music was certainly impressive and numbers include Carla Bley’s angular Ictus and Lemer’s In The Out from Local Colour plus a tune that the pianist recalled inventing on the spur of the moment at a gig at the 100 Club with poet Michael Horowitz. Based on a melody consisting of nine notes, the title Big Dick was dedicated to the late saxophonist Dick Heckstall Smith. Other numbers included a barnstorming version of John Coltrane’s Impressions led by Surman on soprano.

Lemer’s all-too-brief forays on piano demonstrated just how talented a musician he is. His announcements too were fascinating, at one point recalling how on visiting Paul Bley’s apartment he politely greeted the female lying on the bed with “Hello, Carla” only to be rebuked with “I’m not Carla, I’m Annette Peacock.”

With Jon Hiseman clearly enjoying every second of the gig and his erstwhile compatriot from Colosseum and the New Jazz Orchestra Tony Reeves providing muscular support on bass, this was, without doubt, a night to remember in the calendar of British jazz events.

Photo by Roger Farbey

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