Live Music

Craig Crofton at Jazz at the Vaults

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Posted on 30th June 2017

Craig Crofton with the Jazzhouse Trio

Jazz at the Vaults

St James Wine Vaults, Bath

Thursday, 29 June, 2017


Craig Crofton is the quintessentially American jazz tenor saxophonist, despite having been a major player here in the Bristol-Bath jazz scene for over twenty years. He has that aggressive, take no prisoners way of approaching a song, the big tenor tone that bypasses the whole Wayne Shorter school to head straight toward Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Ben Webster and, most important, he plays with an unfaltering sense of rhythm. It’s gutsy and exciting; it’s an American thing. You can take the boy out of the USA, but you can’t take the USA out of the boy. 

Tonight Craig is sitting in with the Jazzhouse Trio in Bath’s perfect jazz dive, St James Wine Vaults, for a couple of sets of mostly standards, a setting that has become essential for Bath jazz fans. The Jazzhouse Trio is altered: alongside drummer Trevor Davies and double bassist Wade Edwards, pianist Dale Hambridge is filling in for regular Vyv Hope-Scott. And he is terrific throughout the night.

The first set begins with a Ray Charles funky jazz tune, Hard Times, and Craig’s sense of rhythm is immediately apparent. Not just in his in-the-pocket timing, but the way he plays with the rhythm in his phrasing; like a good rapper. 

For Monk’s Straight, No Chaser he brought up Ben, an alto playing student who was quite capable but a bit hampered by nervousness. It made one realise how long and steep the learning curve is to play jazz; maximum respect went out for the truly formidable skills of the Jazzhouse 3 and Craig. 

Followed a Hank Mobley tune, Funk In A Deep Freeze, that was given a nice little mellow harmonic twist. Then You Stepped Out of a Dream and Nancy With The Laughing Face with Craig exploring ballad mode with his big tone.

Set 2 began with Autumn Leaves and another student, another alto player, Katie Bunnie. Katie was exceptional. She, first of all, was not nervous, but more than that, she understood the point of this whole thing. She explored variations of melody, harmony and rhythm and seemed to know that, more than all the required technique, getting creative with the music is what jazz is about. She, very deservedly, got a standing ovation.

Craig resumed the centre stage with a slightly apologetic original, a calypso that bore a rather strong resemblance to Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas. The band really dug into it and Dale Hambridge turned in yet another exceptional solo. Once again, the entire band was in top form, Wade, in particular, who looks mighty happy while playing these days.

A lovely Horace Silver tune, Peace, a Jobim bossa, another Hank Mobley, all delivered with Craig’s robust excitement, and we were sent home happy and satiated with night of seriously good jazz. 

Charley Dunlap





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