The market town of Hitchin, nestled in the green and leafy county of Hertfordshire, continued to solidify its reputation as a serious UK jazz destination this week with two notable gigs. The first was Graham Pike and his quartet performing on 4th July at The Highlander. This remarkable pub is run by jazz aficionado, Eric Ransinangue and his partner Charlotte and will shortly be the subject of a separate feature in this magazine. Graham is a multi-instrumentalist who plays trumpet, flugelhorn and harmonica. The rest of the band comprises Phil Mead (piano) Mike Anscombe (drums) Tomas Pedersen (double bass). Over the course of the evening Graham and his merry men served up a menu of jazz classics to the considerable approval of the very knowledgeable audience. While Graham’s abilities on trumpet and flugel were quite evident his skill on the harmonica was a refreshing surprise and added a bluesy dimension to the performance. Graham’s use of a complex effects pedal, usually the preserve of guitarists and synth operators, contributed interesting textures and colours to the band’s sound. Overall a very enjoyable concert.
The second was at the Half Moon pub. This establishment dates from the mid-1700s and is a well-known watering hole in the town, particularly for its involvement with various music and beer festivals. Great bang for the buck was to be had on 5th July when the pub hosted two local bands. Well really one-and-a-half as the two combos are related and share a common rhythm section. First up was, Straight No Chaser, a quartet whose repertoire pivots around the Thelonious Monk songbook. The band is made up of popular local musicians Pete Myatt (electric bass) Steve Seal (drums) Richard Wilsher (keys) and Paul Jolly (alto and tenor saxophone). Following Straight No Chaser’s set, Jazzface took the stage. This iteration of the group featured Pete Myatt and Steve Seal at the back but this time with Craig Stallwood on keys. The Jazzface guys like to play Latin tinged funk which never fails to go down well. On this occasion a noteworthy and surprisingly moving number was the late Billy Taylor’s “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free” which was more popularly known as the theme to the Film Night TV programme presented by national treasure, Barry Norman, who sadly passed away the previous week. Lovely!