Paul Jackson is the bass player whose earth-shaking riffs were the foundation of Herbie Hancock’s ultra-funky Headhunters band, while trumpeter Randy Brecker makes even the rhythmically banal sound sophisticated. At this gig the riffs were indeed mighty and Brecker was inspired. But the jazz seemed tacked on, and at times French drummer Tony Match seemed out of his depth.
Jackson, though, seemed to be having the time of his life, fronting the band with husky vocals, a smart line in chat and wickedly sharp bass. The opening instrumental cruised to a climax on a powerhouse riff while “I Give You Everything” worried a single note into a rhythmic force. The mid-set “I Love You” was a masterclass in space, placement and working the room – an early “ladies vs fellahs” singalong actually worked.
Jackson introduced the ballad that followed with the words: “When you get to be 66, different things happen to you.” Called “Pain”, it was all about emotion and featured Brecker’s beautifully crafted, Harmon-muted highlight. But the set ended on a low, with drummer Match unable to cope with the open spring of Monk’s “Straight no Chaser”. It evolved into a set-piece bluesy bash, but the damage was done.
The second set worked the room like a barroom lounge. The excellent London-based pianist/vocalist Xantoné Blacq opened with a solo revamp of “Que Sera Sera” – think Donny Hathaway toasting with a trace of Stevie Wonder. The band joined in for “Drive My Car”, the jazz standard “Footprints” was reworked to Latin funk – Match, overexcited, doubled the tempo – and “Tiptoe Thru the Ghetto” was a ghetto-funk groove.
The imperious Brecker was full-toned and full of edge, but the highlight was Jackson and his solo version of “Stormy Monday Blues”. His gently strummed bass settled the room, while his uneasy and rhythmic upper register chords brought out the pathos of his traditional vocal line. The finale moved from all-purpose groove to Hancock’s “Chameleon” and then stopped dead. “Time to get up,” said Jackson and, once all had risen, the band kicked in with James Brown’s “Sex Machine”.