I have always found Dunstan Coulberís work both interesting and impressive. In his first incarnation as a young prodigy Ė superb clarinet playing, elegant and polished, with conventional music conventionally played - heíd become the Perrier Young Jazz Musician of 2000. He went on to record in 2001 ĎStandards For A New Centuryí. This was jazz on a higher plane, with Dunstan receiving excellent support from John Pearce, perhaps the best piano accompanist in UK jazz, Nik Preston, Dunstanís bassist on his first album and progressing fast, and the totally tasteful Steve Brown on drums. So, this was much more accomplished music, Dunstan was more mature, commanding and individualistic but still a little short of warmth and raunch (is there such a noun?).
Dunstanís debut at CJC in Spring 2003 was a conspicuous success, highly rated by CJC members, and I didnít hear Dunstan play again live until I went to the launch of his latest album in January 2005. This was a very enjoyable evening and the band received a tremendously enthusiastic response from an audience - who couldnít all have been family and friends! Not surprisingly on his occasion the arrangements followed very closely the album, with most of the solo space being devoted to Dunstan. The surprise was that Dunstan had clearly spent a lot of time improving his tenor sax playing, which was previously something of an afterthought, and Dunstan divided his playing time evenly between clarinet and tenor sax. I had absolutely no hesitation in booking Dunstan to return to CJC.
Frankly I was a little disappointed by the bandís first two numbers at CJC. Dunstan, opening on clarinet, seemed uncertain, with his tone thinner than usual. I suspect this might have been due to something banal: he had arrived only a few minutes before the scheduled start and was determined to start on time. Certainly he settled down for the bandís third and subsequent numbers. He is to my ears a brilliant clarinettist and has also become a decent tenor player.
The live performance was different from both the album and the album launch: the numbers were longer than on the CD, which meant that there was plenty of space for Nik Preston on bass and Allan Ganley on drums to play some excellent but not over-long solos in addition to driving the band forward in great style. Richard Busiakiewicz on piano notably took his opportunities with great flair. At the club heíd previously appeared, with great effect, first with Dunstan Coulber and later with Karen Sharp. What always captivates me about his playing is his originality and wit Ė when playing with Karen there were innumerable quotes, whereas when playing with Dunstan there were mainly responses to the soloists, particularly to Dunstan. Like many rhythm sections there were a couple of times when Nik, Allan, and Richard were sending up, in their support play, solos by Dunstan that were growing long or over-elaborate. This is one of the delights of live jazz and seemed in no way malicious.
The evening was an excellent small group performance, with the musical quality spread evenly around the band. Everyone was on form and there was a good understanding between the musicians. Although the repertoire consisted of wall-to-wall standards, there was only occasionally the feeling of just a routine performance. The music was not red hot but it was certainly warmer and more relaxed than before by Dunstanís bands.
I first heard Allan Ganley in 1958 and have been impressed by his tasteful playing since then (particularly once in a Tubby Hayes band) and he proved at CJC that it is possible to be both tasteful and driving, even loud. There was no nostalgia affecting my reaction to the playing of the rest of the band: Nik continues to improve and his solos are almost always musical and relevant rather than technical exercises; Richard is outstanding and Iím wondering whether he might come back to CJC with a b