Review: Simon Spillett Quintet, Reading

Derek Ansell enjoys an intimate set from Simon Spillett's quintet at the Progress Theatre, the band putting its own stamp on classic Miles Davis material

This concert was part of a tour by the Standard Miles group that also takes in an appearance at the Marlborough Jazz Festival this year. Led by Simon Spillett on tenor sax, the group plays music mainly from the period of the second great quintet 1963-67. They began with Stella By Starlight, which strictly speaking comes from the earlier, Coltrane-Philly Joe band but this reading was notable for some smooth trumpet by Henry Lowther and some bristling tenor by the leader. If I Were A Bell, which Davis played for many years in concert and on record, was here given the full treatment, Lowther's muted trumpet bell thrust into the microphone to produce that tight, anguished but very lyrical Davis sound as the leader piled on the sheets of sound in true Coltrane fashion.

The band continued with Green Dolphin Street and selections from Davis’s Seven Steps To Heaven recording which included a strong reading of Baby Won’t You Please Come Home featuring John Critchinson at the piano. Summer Night, which came from the same record but a different session, gave Lowther the chance to fashion a warm, melodic solo in Davis mode. Simon featured both the trumpeter and pianist in their own solo slots and this all-star quintet was completed by Dave Green on bass and Trevor Tomkins at the drums.

The music was all associated with Miles Davis and played in part in the style of the iconic trumpeter, but when you get musicians as talented as this lot together in one group, their own personalities and stylistic invention will always shine through. It wasn’t long before Simon was running through some of his more masculine solo excursions, full of swing and movement and as inventive as he can be on this sort of performance exercise.

Henry Lowther too was at his best, fashioning solos full of bite and substance with the well-oiled rhythm section purring along or driving hard as the music demanded. My Funny Valentine had the band as a whole pulling out all the stops with impressive solos from Simon and Henry and some well-sustained rhythmic backup from the section. It was very well received by the audience in this relatively small but intimate venue, although I suspect the band will reach further heights on gigs yet to come.

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