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Review Explosive Cannonball tribute to jazz greats

A Portrait of Cannonball
The Vortex, London

THE SPIRITS of the great Florida-born brother-boppers, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” and trumpeter Nat Adderley blow hard and free at this Vortex gig.

Nottingham-born Tony Kofi and London trumpeter Byron Wallen assume the roles of Cannonball and Adderley with a seething zest and power, alongside pianist Alex Webb, drummer Alfonso Vitale and virtuoso bassist Andy Cleyndert.

As they storm into their first number, Gigi Gryce’s Minority, you sense that this is going to be a burning session.

Kofi talks of the “telepathic empathy” between the brothers on their albums in the 1950s and ’60s and when the band reinvent Miles Davis’s Nardis — a tune which Davis gave to Cannonball as a gift — Wallen seems to be playing two horns at two different pitches simultaneously, yet the sound is beautifully lucid.

Kofi’s earthy lyricism on Cannonball’s Things Are Getting Better — a reflection on the civil rights struggle — is a sonic essay of lambent radiance.

The band turn to a tune by one of Cannonball’s great bassists, Sam Jones, and the bouncing theme of Them Dirty Blues has Cleyndert’s bass pulsating away. Kofi’s gritty timbre and his capacity to move into a phenomenal speed of note-making relent during the melodic delivery of the very European ballad Yours Is My Heart Alone, with Wallen’s solo crackling with passion.

When Cannonball moved north and arrived in New York in 1955, making a startling impression on the city’s jazz scene, he brought a new and scintillating energy to the established bebop sound.

Kofi, Wallen and their compadres do something similar here in the heart of the cosmopolis. They create a new surge of kindred horns in a new century.

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