Review: Caius Jazz

LIZ ENIN discovers some seriously funky shit is going on in the depths of Caius.


Caius Jazz: Funkalishous, Sunday February 28, 2010

Ralph Salmins: drums
Nigel Hitchcock: alto
Gareth Williams: piano

In the dingy depths of Caius College, a force is at work. It is mellifluous, it is groovy – groovy enough for the cool clique. You know, those edgy types who lure with a lacy inner thigh or chest-hair bouquet.  And that’s not just the girls I’m talking about.

This is Caius Jazz.

Jonathan Coffer and his crew are Cambridge’s chief jazz messengers; they are bringing to town some of the most illustrious names in the contemporary scene, in a format that could be no purer.  The truest jazz is spontaneous jazz; it is the art of the gig.  No rehearsal and no music allowed.  This is all about a test of musicianship and attitude, and when players like Ralph Salmins on drums, Nigel Hitchcock on alto sax and Gareth Williams on keys get down to business, the juices gush.  My knickers were wringing.

You can’t expect perfection from a student-run gig, and sound is always a bit of a problem when you’ve got the band in one room and half the punters in another.  The piano started off with a few items of clothing missing; the lid was off, and she had a mic or stuffed deep inside her.

On that note, never stuff a mic up your bottom.  Save that game for the tailor-made but plug. There was a patient, one medic told me, whose stereophonic pleasure-seeking led to the amputation of half his bowel, so far did his anal fluttering push that particular appendage.

But I digress.  Soon, the piano was naked; sides off and insides fully exposed.  And then we could hear her.

The Real Book is the jazz musician’s bible. It is a compilation of all the ‘standards’ – the tunes that every jazzer must know inside out and back-to-front. The bass player sneaked a copy to the back: that’s cheating, I thought – but then I forgave him.

There was nothing especially new about this set, therefore; the sermon was the age-old list of standards, from be-bop and hard-bop to funk.  But it was delivered with such energy and panache, and the renditions were so creative; in every tune there were hints of all sorts from the history of jazz. Over an extremely tight rhythm section, the horns paid homage to everything from classic blues licks to the ecstatic flurries of the Charlie Parker variety, to the more chilled and reflective sound of modal Miles. 

There is no doubt that Hitchcock is a highly proficient player.  His solos were bursting with energy, and took on a nice shape over the chords, but his tendency to push for big, loud and complicated made his sound quite samey at times.  Williams, however, was more reflective; his breaks were sometimes meaty, sometimes thin.  This tantalising approach was what made him such fun to listen to; you never knew where he was going next, and you can’t beat that sort of intrigue.

And then it got seriously funky.  Bring on the Herbie Hancock; this is where Salmins really started to shine.  The variety of his beats was astounding, and the rhythm dog was unleashed.  Heads, then shoulders, then bodies rocked; the groove shoes were on.  With the horns cutting through the sweat of an ecstatic audience, Salmins broke the beat, pushed it, pulled it and threw it to the dancefloor.  I even got to practise my pussy pop.

More gigs like this in the near future, please.

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