Review: The Street-Nelms Quartet

It always snows on my birthday.  Not this year, although on Wednesday it felt wincingly close.  So I meandered over to Swing Unlimited Jazz Club, where some hot jazz awaited in the form of the Street-Nelms Quartet.  Four young players with a local link in Poole’s Toby Nelms, now courtesy of west London and the Royal College of Music.  And boy! do they know how to shake the snow from the bough – no wonder the snow didn’t bother this year.

The ‘hidden gem’ that is Swing Unlimited Jazz Club in Westbourne is no longer quite so hidden it seems.  Another packed house of jazz connoisseurs with, no doubt, a large smattering of Toby’s friends and family.  This is the new age of jazz – without flying transatlantic, too.

And what a treat we were in for.  Two scintillating sets, the first featuring many classics, with a Latin, funk and groove feel. Kicking off in perfect jazz style with Richard Rogers’s My Romance and Duke Ellington’s Caravan, we knew we were there for something extra special, right through to Billie Holliday’s Lover Man.  Also with a good measure of groovin’ and funked up jazz in between.

Adam Higgs, dubbed by the band the ‘Resident Leprechaun’ is a terrific swing bassist.  His strong rhythmical support and solos were superbly funky with his ‘extended’ double bass, even when he didn’t swap over to electric bass guitar.  He is charismatic and absorbed in each tune, managing to combine Mancini swing and Isaac Hayes in his mesmorising playing.  Why is it that the bass player is always the sexiest member of a band?

A great rapport between Higgs and Oli Patrick on drums kept the tempos tight.  Oli’s percussion, using rims, brushes and reverse sticks was interesting and never intrusive.  He kept the pace with skill and variety.  Especially thrilling was a drums and bass duet ‘solo’ (or should that be ‘duo’ ?) in Stevie Wonder’s 1974 hit Bird of Beauty.

The Street in the Quartet was Toby Street, playing a sweet trumpet and sultry flugel, imbuing these lovely jazz tunes with an American flavour.  His playing lent a story to the songs, particularly during the moody Noctilucent.  Close your eyes and you were perhaps traipsing the New York sidewalks on a cold and blue Manhattan night.  Mood and atmosphere and telling those stories is what jazz music is about and Street’s subtle playing and melancholy mute, was pitch perfect.  It was all helped along by Pete Alcock’s attentive and well balanced sound and lighting.

The Nelms in the Quartet was Toby Nelms, not only leading his clean-cut young band on keyboard, but as a charming, self-deprecating and slightly earnest frontman.  His playing manages to be technically excellent and characterful at the same time.  Adnamira, meaning ‘flowing water’ in Aborginal, was a standout Nelms composition.  His solo was hauntingly beautiful, bringing the band in with just an intense glance signalling to his players.  Then Toby’s eyes closed while he immersed himself, and us, in his music.  His old music teacher looked on from the audience, chuffed and moved.  I’ll bet Martin Shaw (Toby Street’s teacher at the Royal College) would have loved to hear New York trumpeter Tom Harrell’s composition, Moon Alley, so gorgeously covered.  This had a lovely New York feel with flugel, brushes on drums and Toby Nelms daring to vary his keys’ voice to Hammond electric organ.  Great stuff !  And to finish (that was before the two encores bringing the audience the its feet) a terrific jazz version of Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away.

The Street-Nelms Quartet at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club kept the snow away, the cold at bay and sent the audience tottering out into the crisp night air breathless but warmed right through with the heat of great jazz playing.

Toby Nelms is scheduled to play for the Swing Unlimited All-Stars Big Band Count Basie Tribute at the Regent Centre on 5 May.  If his playing tonight with his Quartet is anything to go by, then it’s something to get excited about.  See you there.


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