Sunday, December 13, 2015

The New [Jazz] Couriers

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Born in Northampton England in 1944, Martin Drew was a powerhouse drummer who performed with the original Jazz Couriers, a quintet fronted by tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes in the late 1950’s. Over the years, he was a fixture at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and worked with many American Jazz musicians who played at the now-famous London nightspot.

Martin also put in a stint as pianist Oscar Peterson’s drummer in the 1990’s.

From about 2000 until his death in 2010, Martin led The New Couriers, a quintet made up of Mornington Lockett on soprano and tenor saxophones, Jim Hart, vibes, Steve Melling, piano and Paul Morgan on drums.

Alyn Shitpon logged this review of the group on the Online Times and Martin uploaded the video at the conclusion of this piece which was made by the quintet during a 2007 performance at the Pizza Express in London.

“New Jazz Couriers
by Alyn Shipton
Pizza Express Jazz Club, 3 May 2004
For less than two years, between 1957 and 1959, the tenor saxophonists Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott fronted one of the most powerful and innovative groups in British jazz. As well as providing a platform for some celebrated jousting contests between the two, the Jazz Couriers generated a sizeable library of original arrangements that have largely gone unheard since.

Hayes died in 1973, but before his own death in 1996, Scott found another sparring partner in the shape of Mornington Lockett, whose tenor playing has something of the same fiery brilliance as Hayes.

In 2001, Lockett and Scott's former drummer Martin Drew, put a band together to revive the Couriers repertoire. Initially, the quintet used a similar two-saxophone front line, but recently this has changed, and at its first Pizza Express appearance of the new year, with vibes player Jim Hart teamed with Lockett.

Hart is more familiar to audiences as the most recent drummer with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, but his vibes playing is a revelation. Not only does he have the speed and dexterity to shadow Lockett through the fastest hard-bop tempi, but he combines the precise mallet-work of a masterly percussionist with free-flowing invention. Many vibraphonists are stylistically in thrall to Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson or Gary Burton, but while Hart occasionally uses Burton's four-mallet approach, his phrasing owes more to the saxophone playing of Scott and Hayes than to other vibes players.

Hart's best playing was on a lovingly transcribed arrangement of Stella by Starlight, where he took what had once been the lead saxophone part, and stretched it into a long, fascinating vibes solo. He was on equally good form on Azule Serape, a piece written by another British vibes player, Victor Feldman, for the 1950s Cannonball Adderley band.

What transforms the New Couriers from being just another tribute band is the intensity of its playing. The dark-suited Lockett, the muscles of his face knotted in concentration, projects energy and fire. His dexterity and rapidity of fingering suggests not only the sound of Hayes but, on Clark Terry's Opus Ocean, brought to mind the high-speed pyrotechnics of Johnny Griffin.

Such playing draws out the best in Drew, who is such a ubiquitous feature of the London scene that he can be forgiven for coasting from time to time. But there was no sense of coasting here. His forceful beat, lightness on the cymbals and subtle turnarounds propelled the band with a vigour that would have done the original Couriers proud.”

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