Pete Lukas / Bob Martin Quintet
(Bulls Head, August 11th 2012. Review by Alison Bentley for

‘Bopcentric’ is baritone-player Pete Lukas’ name for his own recording label, and it describes his music perfectly. London-based American alto-player, Bob Martin, (his ‘partner-in-crime’) was the ideal foil for Lukas’ rich, warm tone.

Bebop is a hard taskmaster, with its precise timing, intricate harmony, tricksy passing tones- and sheer speed and virtuosity. Lukas studied alto with Martin, but switched to baritone to focus on one musical direction, recently gigging with Alan Barnes and Gary Smulyan. Lukas found inspiration in the baritone of the late Pepper Adams and transcribed his solos to get to the heart of the style.

Several tunes written or played by Adams were featured on the gig, and the Latin Sans Souci and Adams’ Trentino contrasted with the mostly hard-swinging pieces. Martin’s solos had a pure, vital sound. We were swept along by the urgency of his phrases- fierce, fast notes in fragile delicate patterns, lasting for only seconds, smooth as silk on glass. Bebop phrases tend to start and end in unexpected places in the bar – Martin would pause with eyes closed and wait for the notes to come to him like a visitation.

On the rare occasions when Pete Lukas picks up a tenor sax, he finds the sound too weak – he’s in thrall to the range of bari timbres, and they were all there in his feature: Adams’ ballad Now In Our Lives. Lukas slides up to the notes with real tenderness, heart-felt vibrato, and relaxed trills and turns. Leon Greening’s superb piano picked up sax phrases and echoed them, playing rippling fills between the melody lines.

Greening’s solo in It Could Happen to You dug bluesily into the rhythm, Wynton Kelly-style, then Shearing-like block chords and delicate Bud Powell-isms – the fingers were a blur.

Some tunes were at combustible tempos. In Miles Davis’ Dig, it was amazing that such an apparently cumbersome instrument as the baritone could sound so agile and incisive – like the ‘knife’ that was Adams’ nickname. Yet Lukas really caresses the sound, even at speed. Drummer Matt Home sat very still but created huge energy and perfect time, with sizzling cymbals and dramatic ‘dropping bombs’.

Ryan Trebilcock‘s steady, compelling bass pulsed through the whole gig (fine bass solos, keeping the bop lines and never losing momentum.)

Some of the most exciting moments were where Lukas and Martin improvised together. At the end of My Shining Hour the two horns had a good-humoured conversation; the earthy and bright tones a fascinating contrast.

Two more fine alto players sprang up from the audience to sit in on Star Eyes and Blues For AliceAlison Neale and Jamie O’Donnell (often to be heard with Bob Martin at La Brocca in West Hampstead). They all had the energy and authenticity of bebop – a lifetime spent playing it, not just as an academic exercise but as self-expression.

The audience loved it – the tempos and the room heated up, people danced in the aisles. Who says you can’t dance to bebop?