Aah 2020, the year that most of us want to forget. It was a time of reaction, confusion, of wearing face masks, hand gel and looking suspiciously at anybody that sneezed. As far as entertainment went, the world slowly ground to halt, nightclubs and bars closed, theatres had to turn away paying customers which left everyone involved at a loss for how to perform and, more importantly, make the money to pay the bills.
Some were clever little so and so’s and looked at alternative ways to stay practising and looked to technology to play live, intimate gigs and this is where I stumbled across the jazz pianist and vocalist Wendy Kirkland.
During the summer months of 2020 it seemed my Facebook feed was littered with a daily dose of something that Wendy (and husband/guitarist Pat Sprakes) called the Latin Lockdown, it was a tune played and recorded with minimum practice and became something I genuinely looked forwards to seeing, all in all there were over eighty episodes.
I’m no professor when it comes to Latin jazz, my knowledge is limited to some Herbie Hancock, Buena Vista Social Club and Santana (which isn’t classed as jazz…) but there is something welcoming and engaging about the music and there is a fine group of musicians here keeping things ticking along really nicely.
The line-up reads like a who’s who of the current UK jazz touring scene with drummer Steve Wyndham, John Richmond on percussion, Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone, Wayne Matthews on bass (bringing a Marcus Miller tone to things) and husband Pat Sprakes on guitar.
We start with ‘Joe Beam’ which is a showcase for the skills of Roger Beaujolais, but is set up by the rhythm that you expect from a Latin band which sits tight but has a looseness that allows the music to sound carefree.
Early on in the album, the favourite track for me is ‘Fairway Blues’, it reminds me of the Nathan East-led band Four Play, with a ticking rhythm and that vibraphone again taking centre stage.
This is somewhat of a change of pace for me, I generally listen to the Blue Note classics or the up and coming scene in London and Bristol but the more I listen to the album the more I realise that I really like this style and that perhaps I’ve been a closed door for a little too long.
I suppose this is the best compliment I can give it, the fact that it makes me want to hear more and discover new artists and styles of music and I feel as if I’ve been missing out on something.
I know there are some who would listen to the laid back feel of ‘El Mar’ (with it’s fine guitar work) and consider the music dull or boring or whatever but this music has always been about mood, it’s music to rest by or music to celebrate with and each song on this album is a nugget of joy, an audio postcode to warmer, happier places and should be enjoyed by anyone who likes their music to be passionate and intricate.