REVIEW: David Rex Quartet / Cannonball, Chapel Off Chapel, Tuesday 20 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz
Vocalist, DJ and PBS broadcaster Chelsea Wilson introduced this two-set gig with lively enthusiasm, and there was every reason to look forward to what was in store from the brothers Rex. Alto saxophonist David, described by expatriate New York pianist composer Barney McAll as “the finest alto saxophonist in Australia today” was joining his sibling, acoustic bass powerhouse Philip. David Allardice was at the piano and Sam Bates was sitting in on drums in the absence of Danny Farrugia.
The quartet played eight pieces, opening with John Coltrane’s Straight Street and closing with the catchy, upbeat Mr Hyde, in which we heard Allardice thoroughly warmed up on the keyboard, an absolute ripper of a bass solo and a strong alto solo to finish.
There was a lot to like in the set — the highlights for me were Philip Rex‘s solos — but either the audience was unresponsive or some interplay was missing between the players, because the vibe did not seem to be there on the night. We heard some super smooth, dreamy sax in David Rex‘s ballad Shades of Colour and some slightly bent alto notes in the classic Body and Soul (“a quick ballad to show how slow we can play”), plus tougher and faster bop in Slap It. But Hammond Song seemed to lack a real buzz and in general the quartet seemed to be finding it hard to fire up the small crowd.
I felt that a pianist such as John McAll may have added the pizzazz and flamboyance to arouse the audience on the night. Yet there was no denying the individual talents of the Rex boys on alto sax and double bass.
The second set brought on another alto saxophonist, Tim Wilson, who formed Cannonball to explore the joyous, soulful, grooving music of the great Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley. He was joined by Paul Williamson (trumpet), Darrin Archer (piano), Tom Lee (bass), Sam Bates (drums) and Chantal Mitvalsky (vocals).
To be honest, I was hoping to hear this band play pieces such as One for Daddy-O; Sack O’ Woe; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy; Limehouse Blues or Walk Tall, but I had to be content with Work Song among my Adderley favourites.
That said, we were treated to a great trip down memory lane, beginning with the bright opening track The Chant, featuring top solos by Wilson and Williamson. We were not long without vocals and as soon as Mitvalsky came on for Ten Years of Tears — which included great bass work by Lee — the songstress became the focal point of the band. I think it was a tough audience, but Mitvalsky gradually roused them and won them over with the power of her personality and vocal range.
A restrained Williamson solo in If You Never Fall in Love With Me was a treat, as was Wilson’s alto in the bluesey Since I Fell For You, in which Mitvalsky’s vocals were expressive and powerful. In Work Song her forceful vocals carried conviction.The trumpet was another highlight in this piece.
Cannonball delivered the goods and no doubt reminded some in the audience of the Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley association. As a lover of the instrumental Adderley, I had to quell a wish to hear more of the band unadorned, but that’s a personal preference. I reckon Mitvalsky’s presence made the night for many at Chapel Off Chapel.