Gerard Presencer, Jazz Café, London

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The Independent Culture

Almost everyone in Britain has heard Gerard Presencer, even if they don't know it. Remember the trumpet part on "Cantaloop", the mammoth 1992 acid-jazz hit by US3? That was him. Now 30, Presencer is universally acknowledged as a superb player with the garland of academe, in the form of the directorship of the jazz course at the Royal Academy, around his neck. Younger players revere him.

Almost everyone in Britain has heard Gerard Presencer, even if they don't know it. Remember the trumpet part on "Cantaloop", the mammoth 1992 acid-jazz hit by US3? That was him. Now 30, Presencer is universally acknowledged as a superb player with the garland of academe, in the form of the directorship of the jazz course at the Royal Academy, around his neck. Younger players revere him.

Despite all that, though, he is curiously lacking in confidence, and that's a fatal flaw in the harsh surroundings of the Jazz Café, a place that looks as though it has been turned through 90 degrees so that the audience, which should stretch back under a low roof, is split between two floors; and, instead of a comforting black backdrop, the walls are an unforgiving white, stretching endlessly upward. There is no escape for the nervous.

This was really the only fault in a performance that was also the launch for Presencer's new album on the German label Act, Chasing Reality. His band, featuring electric bass, drums and multiple keyboards, taps into the vogue for drawing on Seventies-style line-ups (Rhodes piano? Tick! Moog synthesiser? Tick!), and his men know how to use their instruments. Presencer has a thorough command of his horn, on this night not troubling his trumpet and choosing to employ the fuller, softer-toned flugelhorn throughout. He has a warm, elegant sound just the right side of fastidious, breaking into some meaty squeals at points. The material, although not overloaded with memorable tunes, served well as a springboard for the band: fast riffs across the bar lines alternating with an almost-swing in one number, drum'n'bassy in parts, more spacey in others.

But it failed to connect with the audience. There was a lovely blandness to it, perfect but unexciting, and it rarely ignited, doing so only in brief flares that swiftly petered out. This failure was largely down to an absence of identifiable personality on stage. One longed for a Bob Berg to roar in on the tenor sax, to say to the audience, "This is why you're here."

I'm sure that the thoughtful Presencer would be delightful company over a glass of wine or two, but in public he suffers from the disease endemic among British performers - namely, reticence. Convinced though he may be of his own ability (and if he is, then rightly so), if an audience senses self-doubt, they are lost, as they were, largely, at the Jazz Café.

A friend of mine once saw a Hammond-organ legend at the same venue. "How was it?" I asked him afterwards. "Oh, it was great," came the reply, "but after only four numbers he stood up and said, 'I've got to go and have a shit', and never returned." You can be sure my friend will never forget those four numbers. Take note, Professor Presencer: a little attitude can be a virtue.

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