On a sweltering Thursday night the smooth grooves of the Andrew Shaw Quintet were the only sure fire way to chill out. The band took the stage with an upbeat, Shakespeare-inspired tune called ‘Thrice The Brindled Cat Hath Mewed’. The title – a line from Macbeth – set the tone for the rest of the evening, with literary and musical references peppering both the set list and Shaw’s banter.
It wasn’t all intellectual, though. Two of the evening’s best songs were named after pieces of heavy machinery. Playing a jazz instrumental which reminds listeners of a construction vehicle seems impossible or, at best, inadvisable. But the deep, earthy tones of Shaw’s double bass made ‘Back Hoe’ seriously compelling listening.
The show was something of a trip down memory lane for Shaw, with the Quintet playing music from across his 20 year career as a jazz composer. Mixed in with Shaw’s songs were pieces written by some of his influences, including Charles Mingus. Despite the band’s name, Andrew Shaw wasn’t the only star of the show. On double bass, Shaw preferred to lead the band literally from behind, ensuring the trumpet, saxophone, piano, and drums all had their share of the spotlight.
In fact, each song proved to be an opportunity for at least one skillful solo, and the rest of the band looked eagerly at the soloist, as though they were hearing that person play for the first time. Occasionally, they may have been. When an onstage discussion about the next piece turned technical, Shaw quipped apologetically, “just excuse us while we have a brief rehearsal.” With players this polished, even the briefest of rehearsals seemed unnecessary. After all, there’s nothing like the relaxed atmosphere of a jam session to draw an audience in.
As the band played a soulful tune, the river outside lapped at its banks, boats drifted past, and the slow, insistent piano pushed the music onwards, it was clear this show would be one to remember.