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LIVE: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

2 November 11 words: Robin Lewis
Jazz Steps saw John Aram put on a gig with a truly local theme
John Aram Quintet
John Aram and his quintet - photo by Bob Meyrick

Putting on a gig with a truly local theme this week, Jazz Steps saw John Aram bring a five-piece band (plus a guy on a laptop making pretty pictures) to play his suite based around Alan Sillitoe’s most famous novel, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”.

Sillitoe’s son, David, got up at the start to give a little introduction and then rattle the tin for the proposed statue of his father that will hopefully grace some corner of Nottingham. David’s enthusiasm for jazz could not, apparently, convert his father to the form, but the writer was, he told us, very enthusiastic about John Aram’s project.

Drawing on a feeling of nostalgia for his home after living away for many years, Aram wrote the suite as a very loose adaptation of the story, broadly following the same plot and covering the same themes as the book. Occasional snatches of dialogue from the film popped up between the pieces, marking key moments in the story: “I’m pregnant. Good and proper this time” was my favourite.

John Aram Quintet
photo by Bob Meyrick

From the jumpy hustle of the scene-setting opening that aimed for the feel of a busy factory in the 50’s and the attendant release of energy when the shift was over to the woozy blare of the trombone on a drunken night out, Aram’s music absolutely nailed the texture of the times. And Sillitoe’s story was clearly visible in the music, most effectively in the tender intimacy of a sax solo blowing breathy sweet nothings into our ear to signify a slow dance and a burgeoning love affair, and in the upbeat and optimistic fizz of the closing marriage scene. It was a tremendous evocation of the novel, and no doubt drove many of those present to pick the book up again when they reached home that night.

The second half featured at least one track inspired by Nottingham (such as the piece Trip To Jerusalem), but was mostly a selection of unconnected pieces. Night Before Yesterday was the scene of some lovely, restful moments shared between Graeme Blevins on saxophone and John Aram on trombone, and the fantastically named Tom And Jerry strayed close to the frenetic chase music of its namesake on more than one occasion, breaking off into angular, intense keyboard work by Tom Cawley and interplay between his piano, Arthur Hnatek’s drums and Phil Donkin’s bass.

John Aram Quintet
John Aram - photo by Bob Meyrick

The band played against a backdrop of scenes from working class life in the fifties that pulsed and swam in response to the music being played, the most striking of which was that of a woman’s face illuminated by bursts of red geometry in time with the beat of a tune that aimed for the heady feeling of love at first sight. These images, so much a part of the first half, became almost entirely pointless in the second. Shorn of the context of the story of Sillitoe’s book, they became wallpaper. Very nice wallpaper, and occasionally even connected, though tenuously, to the music being played, but wallpaper all the same. And if the cooing, pointing and chatting of the old dears next to me were any indication it was more a distraction from the music than an integral part of the performance.

Still, this aside, it was a fine evening of music dedicated to the finest writer Nottingham has produced in living memory.

John Aram’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at the Bonington Theatre on 27th October.

The next gig in Jazz Steps season features Toby Greenwoods “We Free Kings” at the
Bonington Theatre in Arnold on the 3rd November.

Jazz Steps website

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