Photo of Brandon Chris and Laurie at The Marrs Bar

Brandon Allen’s Groove Band
The Marr’s Bar, Worcester
Thursday 13th June 2024

While the weather and the turnout could certainly have been better, there was very little room for improvement on the performances from all five members of the Brandon Allen Groove Band on Thursday as they played an evening of original music spanning jazz-funk, fusion and soulful gospel.

The first set opened with a nod to Eddie Harris, entitled “Eddie’s Funky Chicken”, with solos taken by Hamish Balfour on keys, followed by Brandon Allen on tenor sax and Mike Outram on guitar. Allen then switched to soprano sax for the Wayne Shorter inspired “Lost Worlds” featuring Outram again. Inspired by Allen’s several visits to Japan – the most recent attempt being scuppered by the pandemic – the next piece “Missing Tokyo” was introduced by Allen on keys, authentically emulating the Japanese koto harp with judicious use of the pitch-bend wheel before Laurie Lowe, making his fifth appearance on the Music Spoken Here stage, dropped into the groove on the kit with Chris Attwell on bass. This piece gave Outram another outing on the fretboard, with Allen back on tenor sax.

The vibe became more sedate with the next piece “Angelus”, a ballad with a distinct Weather Report influence featuring Allen on tenor sax, complete with Attwell delivering a Jaco-esque bass part. The first set closed out with “Slippery Nipple”, a driving jazz-funk piece that featured Balfour on keys, followed by another blistering guitar solo from Outram and Lowe letting loose on the drums.

The second set opened with “What’s This All About Then?”, written amid the “tensions, stresses and mysteries” of COVID-19, which again saw some great interplay between Lowe and Outram. “Drones”, introduced by suitably computerish electronic noises from Allen’s keyboard was inspired by the fateful third flight of his son’s long-awaited drone and featured Allen on soprano sax trading fours with Outram before Lowe took his first extended solo feature of the evening.

The Party Crasher” was up next, a bright R&B number featuring Allen back on tenor sax, with a bluesy guitar solo from Outram and a lively solo from Balfour before Attwell got busy at the fat end of his five-string fretboard. Ray Charles and Jimmy Smith were cited as inspiration for “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You”, introduced as “a gospel love song” combining Allen’s soulful tenor sax with Balfour adopting an organ sound for his solo, before Outram picked up with another righteous blues guitar solo all over a 6/8 gospel groove. The set closed out with “Alchemy”, a jazz-rock fusion piece featuring Allen soaring on the tenor sax as Lowe got excited behind on the kit.

Award-winning jazz journalist Ian Mann, who was among the small but very appreciative audience, was very impressed, particularly with Allen’s writing, giving the overall performance an esteemed 4.5 star rating in his review on Others commented that it was the best they’ve heard on the Music Spoken Here program, which has been presenting the best in UK jazz, funk & soul at The Marr’s Bar for over two years. It was disappointing to see such a low turnout for what was, in no doubt, an exceptional gig and a highlight for live music in Worcester this month. Still, “them’s the breaks” and Music Spoken Here continue to deliver the very best in live music for everyone – whether you get to experience it, well that bit is up to you!

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