TOM GREEN SEPTET | London, St James Theatre

Nestled in the cabaret-style intimacy of the St James Theatre studio, a blindfolded audience member might have been forgiven for thinking they were listening to a collective of jazz veterans – seasoned by many years of ensemble playing. Yet the line-up of the Tom Green Septet are remarkably fresh-faced, sporting pints from the bar and grinning at their audience as they slide into an spellbinding set that feels both nostalgic and yet – somehow – so completely brand new.

After a rousing opener, Green shyly takes to the microphone to tell us that today is his twenty-seventh birthday. The titters of surprise that greet him are prompted not so much by the massive, lurid badge he fastens to his shirt, but at the clear sophistication and musical maturity that belie his years. There is no doubt that trombonist and composer Green is the driving force here, but he is admirably flanked by some stellar musicians: Misha Mullov-Abbado – who recently released his own album New Ansonia to critical acclaim – delivers effortlessly melodic bass lines, whilst tenor sax player Sam Miles’ solo on the Jimmy van Heusen classic But Beautiful is hauntingly languid – a musical moment warmly received by van Heusen’s son, who is in the audience. But Green’s compositions – from his debut album Skyline – are the very heart and soul of the matter.

He introduces each one carefully with the story behind its creation and it is impossible not to hear that story there in the heartbeat of each tune: the shy buoyancy of Arctic Sun is a love letter to an Attenborough nature documentary; the twists and turns of Peace of Mind came to him in the wee small hours before a big audition. More impressively yet, the lilting, folk-inspired Jack o’ the Lantern was penned a mere two weeks before the EFG London Jazz Festival, amid the chaos of Halloween. But it’s the final song of the set – Sticks and Stones – that impresses most: the angsty, anticipatory rhythm changes, the precariously suspended harmonies that settle into an uplifting groove – conjuring all the rallying fierceness and drama of a Bernstein overture.

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