Pigfoot, The Vortex Jazz Club, London – review

The UK quartet Pigfoot re-visit the drags, rags and moaning blues of classic jazz with a mix of healthy respect and focused innovation. At this gig they stuck to core-repertoire themes – not all jazz-based – with authenticity and panache. Trumpeter Chris Batchelor phrased, Satchmo-style, between the cracks, and drummer Paul Clarvis and Oren Marshall on tuba captured the ponderous-but-uplifting lollop of an authentic New Orleans march. Most impressively, pianist Liam Noble got the jangly sound and speakeasy rhythms of ragtime piano to a T.

But with mood and tempo established, the band diverted into more contemporary territory by roaming through a good chunk of modern jazz history. There were spiky, free-jazz trumpet flourishes and, crisp, rimshot-laden rolls that edged into chaos. Cacophonous tuba switched to a soft and subtle walk, while Noble added rugged new-wave runs and soul-jazz tremolos with equal skill.

The quartet opened the first set with “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, the second with “12th Street Rag” and played “Muskrat Ramble” as a deserved encore – the influence of Louis Armstrong was all-pervasive. Duke Ellington’s “East St Louis Toodle-Oo” featured growelly muted trumpet, “Basin Street Blues” sparse twangs from inside the piano.

But they didn’t stop there. A stomping version of Wilson Pickett’s soul warhorse “In the Midnight Hour” was tagged on to a slightly flat reading of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and both sets transformed a country and western staple. In the first, “Tennessee Waltz”, announced by Batchelor as “going to the dark side”, featured Marshall’s warm, mournful reprise of the original theme. And in the second set, “Stand By Your Man”, played as a New Orleans lament, was an evening highlight.

At their best, the quartet successfully wove contemporary jazz into a repertoire that is too often reduced to po-faced reproduction or, worse, tongue-in-cheek anarchy. Marshall’s animal grunts, an authentic feature of ragtime, were kept to a minimum, and Clarvis’s tugs at rhythm and time were musically on the money. The dynamics were sharp and often dramatic, though mid-tempos needed more of a boost. And, by respecting structure and form, the most raucous fancy could stop with a single bash on a drum.


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