The club has made enormous strides over the last few years with its now totally live music programme. However, for me the club only really became a fully-fledged jazz club with its acquisition of a brand new acoustic piano at the start of this season.
Zoe Rahman personifies this new era at CJC. I have been talking to Zoe, born and bred in Chichester, for several years now to try to attract her to CJC. The discussions were clearly pointless, if very enjoyable, until we had a piano for her to play. Keyboards are totally incompatible with her trio music and her own expressive and classically-based piano playing. The next connection with Zoe can be found in the very word ‘live’. ‘Zoe’ is the Greek word for ‘life’; the vivacious and exuberant Zoe Rahman was certainly aptly named.
And Zoe’s music? Before Zoe’s appearance at CJC I had heard Zoe’s trio play five times over the past five years. One of the strongest attractions for me was the restless energy driving the trio on and on and the constantly changing music. That word ‘life’ comes to mind again! What a contrast the trio presents with so many bands I hear (and often enjoy and value immensely!) that change little over the years and operate totally within a narrow genre or sometimes with the aim of re-creating one band or musician’s work. The most original and consistent feature of the trio’s music is the role of the drums in so many of the numbers: not confined to a supporting role, instead the drums follow and respond to the piano’s lead, and in fact drums and piano often share or exchange the lead. Not only is this device the main source of the trio’s improvisation but also it can, and does, confuse the less perceptive listener. The classical influences in Zoe’s writing are also to me delightful - and were more evident at CJC than before. For me Zoe ranks highly among living UK jazz pianists because of her distinctive style and approach: Zoe Rahman plays like Zoe Rahman, and her music is, thankfully, never easy listening.
The music on the night took a couple of numbers to warm up – perhaps Zoe was a little tentative about her return to ultra-conservative Chichester. Once the trio got into a sequence of characteristic, vivacious tunes - one of Zoe’s, followed by compositions by Monk, JoAnne Brackeen, and Phineas Newborn – the music was challenging, energetic and rhythmic. Then Zoe turned to a subtle version of A Foggy Day – ‘my mum phoned me in the car and said, as I was going to Chichester, I should play one tune that everyone would recognise’. The second set opened with a wry version of Monk’s Straight No Chaser and included a delightful, slow solo performance of a number by JoAnne Brackeen (the first time in six of her gigs that I’d heard her play solo); Monica, one of her earliest compositions; and in conclusion an exceptional version of Monk’s Ruby My Dear. A record audience at the club warmly applauded the trio off stage.
Finally I should play tribute to the sterling work of Zoe’s colleagues in this, her third trio. Gene Calderazzo is a forceful and inventive drummer, much lauded by his peers and performing the most difficult role in Zoe’s music. He only lost his way once in the whole evening, the price of improvisation as Geoff Simkins might say - that famous improvisation educator and fine altoist will be at CJC on July 15. Oli Hayhurst, a young bassist with a more limited ‘keep time and fill in’ brief than the others, was rock solid and played three outstanding solos.
I’d like to leave the final word on the evening to one of our young visitors, Ben Williams, a year older than Zoe: ‘Thank you so much. If you had music like this every time, I could bring loads of people along. A breath of fresh air’.