Wayne Henderson, Ronnie Scott's

Those Southern KnightsThe overwhelming feeling after Wayne Henderson's 80-minute set at Ronnie Scott's (13 January 2012) was one of an opportunity missed. Since he left The Crusaders in 1975, various loose associations of the band's founding quartet members, Wilton Felder, Joe Sample, Stix Hooper and Henderson, have performed and recorded either as The Crusaders, or under the Jazz Crusaders moniker featuring a succession of stellar musicians happy to answer the call. Henderson, for example, recently recorded with Ronnie Laws, Bobby Lyle and Hugh Masekela.

As with his London dates in 2009, his current line-up features Paul Russo on tenor and soprano saxes, Brian Price on guitar, Joel Gaines on keyboards, David Hughes on bass and Moyes Lucas on drums. I was hoping to hear new material showcasing this band's evident range of talents, a chance perhaps to witness a reinvention of Henderson’s seminal contribution to the Crusaders' inimitable mélange of raw Texan funk, jazz, blues and bop. We were offered glimpses of a new musical path, but sadly, the evening never really took off.

It all started well enough with an extended version of trombonist Henderson’s 1974 Stomp And Buck Dance, featuring a muscular tenor solo by Russo matched in intensity by Gaines on piano. The follow-up was an inventive take on The Jazz Messengers' own 1962 classic, a version of the nursery rhyme, Three Blind Mice. The highlight was some superbly lyrical playing by guitarist Price – it was a real pity that he did not feature more.

Continuing the retro flavour, it was Hughes's turn to shine with a six-string bass extended opening to Eleanor Rigby, dovetailing into Henderson's best work of the night – also unaccompanied. Russo too hit the heights in his understated but distinctive soprano solo answered by another Gaines solo. I glanced at my watch – 25 minutes and counting. Henderson announced "and that was the short version". At least he has a good line in jokes.

Underlining how the set had huffed and puffed its way to an uneasy trade-off between jazz improvisation and a more commercial sound, was Henderson's choice to close with the 1979 hit Street Life. Guest vocalist Natalie Williams bravely attempted to imprint her authority, but it must be said, was unsuited to a composition that remains synonymous with Randy Crawford. Her improvised scat vocal section worked better, unlike the contrived exhortations to the audience for a call-and-response. The band's parting outro was to a background simmer of Will Jennings/Sample's Way Back Home (1974).

Francis Graham-Dixon

Pictured: The Crusaders' classic 1975 album Those Southern Knights

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