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Ambulance, a fresh-faced UK modern jazz quintet led by the seasoned bass player Arnie Somogyi, celebrated being the first jazz band to secure a creative residency at the Snape Maltings at Aldeburgh with this short season at Ronnie Scott’s, adding the veteran US trumpeter Eddie Henderson for good measure.
Henderson’s credentials stretch back to landmark sessions with Herbie Hancock in the 1970s, and the gig could easily have become an unbalanced showcase for a visiting legend, save for the strength of the largely original material, the willingness of the younger musicians to play to their strengths, and Henderson’s own professionalism.
Although Ambulance incorporate a laptop and electronic effects, they are at their core an acoustic modern jazz outfit delivering tightly argued arrangements over the full harmonies and funky beats that were popular in the late 1960s – and they are remarkably good at it. The rhythm section has the right balance of mellow swing and rhythmic swagger, while the three-piece horn section, with trumpeter Henderson joined by saxophonists Rob Townsend and Paul Booth, captured the oeuvre’s trademark soulful harmonisations and melodic clarity.
Most of the original material was composed or arranged during the Aldeburgh residency, but although there was an airy zing in the arrangements and the occasional fishy theme – a paean to a local fisherman, “Captain Courageous”, was introduced by the sampled sounds of the band leader Somogyi crunching along the Aldeburgh shoreline – they stayed firmly in the urban jazz tradition, opening with a boogaloo, “Loose Connection”, and closing with a tricky time- signatured “Tim’s Delight”. The only non-original was Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap”.
Eddie Henderson was on top form, dovetailing neatly in the ensembles and sparkling in his solos. His two thoughtfully paced mid- tempo features were technically adept but, more importantly, they showed the clarity of musical ideas of one of jazz’s top-drawer musicians. ★★★☆☆
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