Review: Simon Allen Quintet, Reading




Derek Ansell sees a demonstration of the enduring value of the standard repertoire from the local tenor man

Reading Jazz presented the Simon Allen Quintet as the second of this year’s performances at the intimate Progress Theatre. Local boy Allen, who grew up in Reading and went to school there, was given a rousing welcome home by the full house at the little theatre. The band featured the leader on tenor and alto saxes, Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugelhorn, Malcolm Edmondson, keyboard, Andy Crowdy, bass and Mike Bradley on drums. The group kicked off with Fountainhead, a slow blues by fellow altoist Vincent Herring, and this gave everybody a chance to stretch out and take a short solo.

Speak Low was next, a standard that most modern jazz musicians like as a vehicle for improvisation. The leader’s solo on alto was well structured and indicated a good feel for the blues, even when he is not playing that format! Shaw’s contrasting solo was mellow and melodic, using flugelhorn on this selection. Joyspring, associated with the late Clifford Brown, brought out the best in everybody, as favourite compositions often do in jazz soloists. The leader played a complex but swinging solo here and Shaw followed with a strong trumpet segment. Three’s A Crowd was Simon’s examination piece at the Royal Academy of Music and he received a B plus for it, an interesting composition that I suspect has changed considerably as time goes by. This was an up-tempo workout with everybody on top form, particularly the leader and Shaw.

Cherokee, another favourite with jazz musicians, was played at high velocity in an imaginative new arrangement by Simon that again gave everybody an opportunity to show what they could do. Bradley had a good workout on this one and proved to be a technically highly equipped drummer but there was plenty of emotive steam let off during his well-worked and long solo. Sopping The Biscuit was a bluesy-style piece written by Roy Hargrove and Folk Lore another line by Vincent Herring. Simon’s homecoming was given a roar of approval by the audience and the band played the inevitable encore to cheers and foot stomping all round.

Photography by Brian O'Connor


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