Jay Phelps

Jay Phelps  – vivacious jazz trumpeter hops from hard bop to Outkast

Cockpit theatre, London
The Canadian delivered a genre-fluid, playfully funky performance, ably supported by sets from cinematic composer Phelan Burgoyne and Cuban violinist Omar Puente.

Jay Phelps
Full-throttle … Jay Phelps at the Cockpit theatre. Photograph: Steven Cropper

The versatile and personable Canadian trumpeter Jay Phelps – not as regular a sighting on the UK’s live jazz circuit as he deserves to be – lent extra spice to Jez Nelson’s monthly Jazz in the Round show at the Cockpit theatre this week, on an already imaginative triple bill featuring drummer/composer Phelan Burgoyne and lyrical, riproaring Cuban expat violinist Omar Puente.

Phelps has been compared to American trumpet stars such as Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard for his virtuosity and sense of the jazz tradition. He was a founding member of the prizewinning British post-bop group Empirical, and has more recently been an enabler as well as a player on London’s burgeoning and youthful late-night jamming scene.

All that diverse experience was reflected in a tight, vivacious performance that drew extensively on this year’s Free As the Birds – only the second solo album of his career. The set took in playfully funky music descended from 1960s hard bop, a lyrical folk-jazz reminiscent of Avishai Cohen’s (powered by double bassist Fergus Ireland’s booming pizzicato and briefly featuring Phelps’ modestly melodious singing), and a bristling instrumental improv version of Outkast’s Spread that began as a fanfare-like declaration of the theme by Phelps and pianist Rick Simpson, and wound up as an ensemble roar urged on by exciting drummer Will Glaser.

 Whirling tributes to danzón
Whirling tributes to danzón … Cuban violinist Omar Puente at the Cockpit theatre. Photograph: Steven Cropper

Phelps’ quartet delivered a full-throttle, genre-fluid contemporary jazz of a kind that can ignite almost any venue. The intimacy of the Cockpit’s in-the-round environment was also a perfect match for Phelan Burgoyne’s subtly cinematic compositions with the evening’s opening trio, featuring the softly piping and flute-like sound of Martin Speake’s alto saxophone and its delicately serpentine counterpoint with Rob Luft’s guitar. And though Omar Puente’s mid-show solo set was short, the Cuban violinist’s romantically melodic call-and-response games with himself, pedal-powered electronic band-mimicry, and gracefully whirling tributes to his homeland’s classic danzón form almost stole the night.

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