Art Themen – sax
George Double – drums
Pete Whittaker – organ
Art Themen needs no introduction so here is a review of one of their gigs last year
From Chichester Jazz Club
This trio have played over 60 gigs together recently – and doesn’t it show!! The empathy and understanding between them underpinned performances – individually and collectively – that were faultless.
Art has been a mainstay of British jazz for many decades – I first heard him at my university’s jazz club 60 years ago and I was impressed then – imagine how impressed I am now! Age has had no discernible effect on any of his attributes. His playing continues to be inventive, playful and exciting and his anecdotes and introductions humorous and engaging. A sell-out audience attested to his reputation; they loved every minute of the evening and made sure the band knew it.
Pete and George support him so well but take their share of the limelight too and reveal a very high level of musicianship whether accompanying or soloing.
Chili Peppers was the first tune; Art began it gently and I was immediately reminded of what a great tone he has on his tenor. And What If I Don’t? (Herbie Hancock) was a slower, more “deliberate”number with a very bluesy organ solo before Art upped the tempo.
Changing tempos, volume and complexity – within numbers, not just between them – is a feature of this group’s playing and provides a great deal of interest and excitement for the audience.
Sweet Emma (Nat Adderley) demonstrated these “light and shade” dynamics very well before they continued with Groovy Samba (Sergio Mendes) for which Art switched to soprano (despite claiming that it would be “tricky” in the upper register). This was a fun, flowing and melodic number which ended with an impressively expressive solo from George. Keith Jarrett’s Country was calming and hymn-like. Art stayed on soprano for Miss Brahms. My One and Only Love (“a romantic ballad until I got my hands on it” said Art) featured a beautifully constructed and mellow solo from Pete which drew great applause.
Abdullah Ibrahim’s African Marketplace was spritely and upbeat with another excellent drum solo from George before the first set ended with Jobim’s Captain Bacardi.
Art once recorded I’m An Old Cowhand (Mercer) with Bing Crosby(!) which may have inspired the very robust solo he treated us to on this occasion. Water From An Ancient World (Ibrahim, again) included an occasionally very rousing solo from Pete before Art played a softer, very sinuous solo. Cape Verdean Blues (Horace Silver) had Art playing at full steam, demonstrating wonderful imagination and the superb technique necessary to deliver it. Dizzy Moods (Mingus) preceded verbal tributes to Don Weller (“Do you do requests?” “Only if asked” he would reply) and Bobby Wellins, with Playin’ in the Yard (Rollins) – given a bossa nova treatment – as the group’s musical tribute.
According to Art, George had “told“ him to play an unaccompanied piece; he chose Monk’s Ask Me Now and we were treated to three minutes of sheer magic. By contrast (in style) the last number was Dexter Gordon’s Hanky Panky and we got a grandstanding performance with the whole band on fire (were there really only three of them?) leading to loud and prolonged applause and, inevitably, an encore, which was Belafonte’s Hold ’em, Joe – just as fast and furious!
This was Happy Music, and a Happy Evening for artists and audience alike.
And quotes regarding their album Thanes and Villains
“A first-rate trio..an excellent set..Themen is one of the very few totally original, utterly engaging jazz musicians around” **** Dave Gelly – THE OBSERVER
“Just once in a while one chances upon a new album that is just perfect, and love at first listen. Thane & The Villeins is one of those rare gems.” James Henry – BEBOP SPOKEN HERE
“Magesterial..Art’s version of Willow Weep For Me is enthralling” Jack Kenny – JAZZ VIEWS
“Themen, a veteran master now, in such eloquent form” **** Peter Vacher – JAZZWISE
“Cracking album…In any other country he’d be regarded as a national treasure” Leonard Weinrich – LONDON JAZZ NEWS
“Boistrous and inventive as ever..funky and swinging” HI FI NEWS & RECORD REVIEW