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Just East

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Reviews of Just East

 

30/11/2011 Diane Watson

“Just East”, formerly “Just East of Jazz”, made an eagerly anticipated return to Scarborough Jazz last Wednesday, and didn’t disappoint.

The London-based quartet, consists of reedsman and composer Jeremy Shoham, multi-keyboardist Neil Angilley, electric bassist Phil Scragg and drummer/percussionist Rick Finlay (accompanied by a wonderful drum and percussion rig which was so big it had to be set up off-stage).

The band offered two sets of hugely diverse and imaginative music, which was largely drawn from their critically acclaimed new album “House of Leaves”, and the sets perfectly showcased the band’s diverse expertise: Shoham’s intricacy and clean, precise tone, Finlay’s vivid rhythmic creativity, Scragg’s unusual ability to exploit both electronic effects and the more guitar-like characteristics of his instrument, and Angilley’s sheer musicality and imagination.

As Finlay pointed out, jazz has always fused different musical traditions, and has always travelled – transporting and mutating elements of those traditions – but “Just East” extrapolate this process into a post-modernist creative space.

The performance wasn’t jazz-rock fusion, per se - though there were passages which had a texture not unlike Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew”, and others which had flavours of the jazzier British prog-rock of that same era, and hints of the piano style of West Coast country blues-rockers like Greg Allman - “Just East” also draw heavily on jazz history, and both Christian and non-Christian Mediterranean traditions. There were even times when Angilley’s inspired improvisation ventured into the Stravinsky-like territory much loved by the late Frank Zappa. To underline this point, one of the more dramatic compositions on offer was Finlay’s “Saraweto”, which was a musical journey that toured back-and-forth between the Balkans and South Africa.

All in all, this was an inspiring performance, and it was gratifying for the audience to learn how much the band enjoys playing at Scarborough, so hopefully they’ll return soon; and on that note, I add, once again, that this is another band not to be missed.

 

10/10/2003 J. J. Marshall

JUST EAST OF JAZZ: THE SPIN, OXFORD Unusual to begin a review with the percussionist, but when Rick Finlay produced from his palette of instrumental colours, an African thumb piano (mbira), an Iraqi frame drum (doyra), an Egyptian tambourine (riq) and some basket shakers from Brazil (caxixi), to paint a scene of the noon-day heat in a Spanish city, he won my heart. Aided and abetted by Phil Scragg on bass and Neil Angilley on electric keyboards, these three created a wonderfully atmospheric piece that spoke of deserted, sun-bleached streets pregnant with the silence only hot climates can produce. Not only that, but just for once, the limelight-hugging saxophone was upstaged ... a vastly entertaining, musically superb evening. Much of the credit...must go to Shoham's choice of band members. Angilley, Finlay and Scragg bring a warmth and accessibility to their music...Angilley is a dynamic player whose lush style particularly complements Shoham's sax... But perhaps the biggest surprise was the variety of tempo and style within the numbers ... one number moved from Jewish dance, to a slow blues and the best of Angilley's jazz keyboard in minutes. Rather like a carousel ride at the fairground, this was an exhilarating evening that flew past, leaving us breathless and dizzy at the end. Excellent.

 

20/03/2001 John L Walters

Just East of Jazz
Barbican Freestage, London
The free lunchtime platform jazz gig is a nice tradition, a great opportunity for people who rarely go to an evening gig -the retired, the unemployed, working musicians and parents with small children. At the Barbican you can sit on the carpet and concentrate, or wander around a bit and stretch your legs. In this sympathetic context the lightly amplified but gutsy Just East of Jazz sounded just fine. Led by the composer/reeds player Jeremy Shoham, JEOJ use eastern European melodic styles to breathe life into the familiar line-up of sax, drums, piano and bass. Their arrangements depend on rapid transitions and tight unison playing and their current tour, supported by the Jazz Services scheme, has enabled them to forge a razor-sharp ensemble sound and have fun with it. The bass and drums can accompany the rapid modal runs of a number such as Dybuk Chimes, or they can play it as straight klezmer. And some of these snaking lines are so fast that they have a surreal kinship with the chromatic fantasies of early bebop. The band's two sets featured several new, as yet untitled pieces written specially for the tour. One of them, in three four time, evolved into a triplet-based pulse with a powerful piano solo by Neil Angilley before sliding into a raggy waltz for Shoham's soprano solo. Drummer Rick Finlay has the necessary light touch, with lots of splashy cymbal work, but is able to drop into solid mainstream fusion at will, nicely complemented by the funky swing of Phil Scragg's bass playing. (At one point Scragg soloed using every technique in the book: strumming, false harmonics and mind-boggling slides.) As the audience grew and warmed to the performance, little children tumbled in front of the band: toddlers dance and run around to jazz' polyrhythms as happily as they do to the Tweenies.
Last Saturday night, the first part of the BBC2 documentary Walk On By looked at the way songwriters from Russian Jewish families shaped early jazz, injecting a harmonic and melodic sensibility you can trace from Berlin's Supper Time to Gershwin's Summertime. Yet Shoham's compositions often separate the east European and Afro-American components of jazz like the coloured rings in a paper chromatography demonstration. Blue Mountain Pyre alternates between rapid bursts of klezmer razzle and a slow slab of dark-hued blues: it's like switching channels between Fiddler on the Roof and Round Midnight. The band switches between rhythmic feels with telepathic ease, and the presence of the talented Angilley gives them an improvisational depth and range that complements the witty and thoughtful compositions. Shoham started JEOJ to forge a link between his family's spiritual roots and his passion for jazz: the band has developed a performing style that both transcends and respects his romantic ideals.

 

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