Photo of Iain Ballamy IBQT

Legendary saxophonist Iain Ballamy drew a fantastic crowd to The Marr’s Bar on Thursday as his ‘IBQT’ quartet stopped by in Worcester for the second date on a short West Midlands tour organised by Jazz Midlands, taking in Walsall the previous evening, Birmingham the following evening and Kenilworth on Monday 8th. The event was hosted by Worcester promoter Music Spoken Here, who have been showcasing the best in UK jazz, funk & soul at The Marr’s Bar since May 2022, with shows every other Thursday.

For this show, Ballamy was joined by Rebecca Nash on keys and Nick Pini on double bass, with King Crimson drummer Jeremy Stacey, making his second appearance at The Marr’s Bar for Music Spoken Here this year, completing the rhythm section. As the doors opened and the punters filed in, it soon became ‘standing room only’ with a record turnout for this exciting midweek series, which included Stacey’s King Crimson ‘boss’ Robert Fripp who popped down from Pershore to check it out! It was encouraging to see easily one fifth of the audience in their twenties, indicating Worcester are cottoning on to the growing popularity of jazz among younger audiences seen in Birmingham and London.

The first set opened with the Joe Henderson number “Black Narcissus“, with Ballamy leading on tenor sax and solos featuring Nash and Pini. Two of Ballamy’s compositions followed – “Strawberries“, which included a remarkably ‘spacial’ drum feature from Stacey, and “Portisbrau“, named from an amalgamation of Portishead and Brad Meldhau! The tempo then slowed with the gorgeous “Midnight Sun” by Lionel Hampton, a tune inspired by the experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis with a loved one that was notably recorded by Ella Fitzgerald among others. This arrangement featured Ballamy’s tenor sax, with the “haunted milk float” sound (Ballamy’s reference to the vibraphone) substituted with electric piano by Nash. The first set ended with a lively arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints“, a tune that was last played on the Marr’s Bar stage the day Shorter passed (Thursday 2nd March, 2023), by Robert Castelli’s band that featured Francesco LoCastro on guitar, Marco Marconi on keys and Jonny Wickham on bass.

The second set opened with a piece inspired by the Cole Porter song “So In Love“, followed by another Ballamy original “Floater“, which included a melodic reference to Coltrane’s “Naima“. Arrangements of pieces from various other composers followed, including Jobim’s “Retrato Em Branco E Preto” and “Without A Song” by Vincent Youmans. As the packed Marr’s Bar clamoured for more, Ballamy chose Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” for an encore. (Fans of Joni Mitchell may be interested to know that “Hejira – Celebrating Joni Mitchell”, a 7-piece band put together by guitarist Pete Oxley, featuring the vocals and guitar of Hattie Whitehead and featured in the February issue of Jazzwise Magazine, will be appearing on the Music Spoken Here program in June). Since increasing the frequency of these events in January from monthly to every other Thursday, Music Spoken Here has seen the average turnout for these events increase by more than 30%, building on the previous increase with the introduction of pay-what-you-can admission in September last year. For more information, please visit the Music Spoken Here website.

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