Art Themen – reeds, Steve Melling – piano
Steve Melling celebrates his 60th birthday in a variety of settings this year, including tonight in duet with the legendary Art Themen, following their impactual concert last year at the Llandudno Jazz Festival. There is a respectful nod towards Themen's ex-boss Stan Tracey, for whom Melling substituted in Stan's final year, as well as some original material, making this a unique and compelling show.
How did it happen? To many, it seems as if it were only yesterday that Lancashire-born Steve Melling was the new young piano whizz in town, underpinning the full-on Hard Bop of Clark Tracey's Quintet with an energised and personal mix of McCoy Tyner and Victor Feldman.
Incredibly, that particularly memorable moment of Brit-Jazz brilliance occurred three decades ago! This summer, Melling turned 60 and has chosen to mark this milestone with further duo appearances with another veteran – Herts Jazz Patron Art Themen.
If you know the pair's album Trace Elements you'll know what to expect, although with a saxophonist as quixotic as Themen on the stand expectations are the kind of thing best left at the door.
Indeed, about to pass his own momentous birthday (he'll be 80 in October, though you'd never know it to see and hear him) Themen remains one of the most inquisitive of all UK jazz soloists, still finding fresh things to say within the broad language of post-bop saxophone. And broad is the right word for this genuinely matched partnership, which explores the caprices of free-improvisation just as convincingly as it does the tricky compositions of its pianist.
As jazz one-on-ones go, this has to be among the best the UK has ever fielded.
'The rapport between the two is impressive, with a mutual gift and plenty of conversational exchanges between the more developed solos. Also lurking beneath the surface is a shared sense of humour...'
The Jazz Rag, review of Melling/Themen album 'Trace Elements'.
Duration 75 mins