JAZZ / Tonic for the troops: Eddie Henderson - Tenor Clef, London N1
Thursday 14 January 1993
Tuesday's final performance of a short season at the Tenor Clef in Hoxton owed less to Freud than to Marx. The economic determinism of jazz means that a visiting semi-name like Henderson must tour as a soloist, picking up rhythm sections as he goes.
This can have the benefit of increasing the spontaneity of a performance but it also means that the repertoire will usually depend heavily on a diet of standards, whose chord changes the section are familiar with. 'On Green Dolphin Street' and Monk's 'Well You Needn't' - the lingua franca of jazz musicians - were among the old dependables put out to work in this show.
The British rhythm section was very good, with Bryan Spring particularly fine on drums and Peter Ind's bass combining time-keeping with sinuous expressive effects; but they seemed a touch deferential to the star, saving their most swinging efforts until Henderson had finished his solos and left the stage. Nick Weldon on piano was the most respectful, rarely pushing the leader into a position where he might feel his easy fluency was threatened.
This was a pity, for Henderson - a short, dapper man with a shaved head - is a superb player, possessing both a big sound, full of punchy, rapid-fire effects, and a plangent lyricism on delicate ballads. This rare combination of the merits of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis was most apparent on unfamiliar tunes: 'Lament for Booker', for example, a beautiful ballad with a blues-march motif, played on flugelhorn, and Kenny Barron's atmospheric 'Phantoms'.
Playing with a mute, Henderson squeezed the notes out of the tiny aperture with great skill, while on the larger, open-throated flugel, the horn's bell-end produced enough puff to almost send the club's tables and chairs reeling. Even played off-mike, halfway down a corridor backstage, Henderson remained loud and clear.
There was no fusion, just expertly played, straight-ahead acoustic jazz. Word on Henderson had obviously got around, since the club was packed. Next time, perhaps, he'll be able to bring his own band too. That might be just what the doctor ordered.
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