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Not Now Charlie are a young five piece band from Newcastle upon Tyne led by saxophonist and composer Jamie Toms. The group also features guitarist Pawel Jedrzejewski, pianist Richard Campbell, bassist Liam Gaughan and drummer Dave McKeague.
Their music embraces elements of jazz, pop soul and r’n'b and they cite artists such as saxophonists Chris Potter and Joshua Redman, trumpeter Christian Scott, and drummer Manu Katche plus the UK’s own Roller Trio as significant influences.
Not Now Charlie made their live début at the 2014 Gateshead Jazz Festival and released their début recording, “The Loft Sessions EP” in 2015. The group’s latest release, “Nostalgia Revisited” is a full length live album recorded at the The Jazz Café in Newcastle on February 12th 2016. Like its predecessor it appears on the Jazz Sound record label founded by Toms to showcase the jazz, funk and soul artists of the North East. Recorded by Mark Stafford it was mixed by the group’s bassist Liam Gaughan.
“Nostalgia Revisited” features nine original pieces, all composed by Toms and arranged by the group. The performance begins with the attention grabbing “M.C.T” which features Toms’ soulful tenor sax in a contemporary setting incorporating elements of funk, soul, Latin and rock. Campbell deploys both acoustic and electric keyboard sounds but its Gaughan’s melodic Pastorius/Swallow styled electric bass and Jedrzejewski’s soaring, stratospheric guitar that steers the music more firmly into rock territory. Following the guitarist’s solo the return of Toms’ sax signals a return to the initial soul jazz feel of the piece. A partisan local crowd gives them a great reception.
“Hadath” is introduced by a powerful solo feature from McKeague at the drums which eventually sees him combining with Gaughan, Campbell and Jedrzejewski to create a full on funk groove, this providing the stimulus for Toms’ gritty r’n'b tinged tenor sax. The inventive Jedrzejewski again makes good use of his range of effects as his guitar takes flight once more. Toms’ solo then finds the music taking more of a Latin-esque turn courtesy of Campbell’s keyboard work and McKeague’s colourful drumming.
“Quizzical” begins with Toms’ throaty tenor sketching the melody above an undulating funk groove prior to stretching out with a forceful, Coltrane-esque solo. Jedrzejewski weighs in with more fretboard pyrotechnics on another excellent group performance that clearly delighted the home crowd.
The beginning of “Russian Girl (Who Speaks No English)” finds the quintet temporarily chilling out as Campbell and Jedrzejewski provide a delicate piano /guitar introduction. McKeague’s brushed drum grooves steer the music into more up-tempo territory and Campbell impresses with a flowingly expansive acoustic piano solo, his only extended feature of the set. Toms’ tenor solo locates the music back in more familiar soul jazz territory as the momentum builds once more before gradually fading again on the gently melodic coda.
“It’s Not Me, It’s You” sees the group adopting an unashamed rock groove that fairly powers the music along as sax, guitar and keyboards coalesce around the surging melody. This first phase of the tune ends rather abruptly to a smattering of confused applause but Gaughan and McKeague then combine to restart proceedings, their dialogue morphing into an extended feature for the impressive and powerful drummer. Finally the front-liners reconvene to take the music storming out.
As this is a live recording Toms’ introduction of his band mates presages “Mythos” with its infectious grooves and lively solos from Toms on tenor and Jedrzejewski on guitar, the latter initially favouring a cleaner, more orthodox jazz guitar sound before shading off into more rock influenced terrain once more.
The introduction to “Potter’s Wheel” sounds as if it may have been largely improvised as the group blend free jazz tropes with more overt funk elements. Eventually an odd meter, but still inescapably funky, groove emerges with the group even flirting with elements of prog and math rock. There’s some commendably tight ensemble playing framing a gutsy tenor solo from Toms as Jedrzejewski plays something of a wild card role with some interesting and unusual guitar noises.
The title track has something of an anthemic quality and features the soulful cry of Toms’ tenor sax above arpeggiated rhythms as the music builds in power and intensity before leading to a more impressionistic episode featuring Jedrzejewski’s guitar. However the Pole’s axe is soon soaring again as he takes flight above the muscular rhythms laid down by Gaughan and McKeague before the tune resolves itself in a similar manner to which it began.
The album concludes with the optimistic sounds of “Where Do You Go To?” which opens with sax and guitar operating in tandem above powerful rock rhythms. Jedrzejewski’s guitar solo offers a more reflective episode as he adopts a relatively unadorned guitar sound, subtly supported by Campbell’s acoustic piano and McKeague’s light, splashy cymbal work. Toms’ breezy tenor solo increases the energy levels once more before the piece ends with some powerful unison riffing.
Overall I was very impressed by this offering from the curiously named Not Now Charlie. All the musicians perform well and I was particularly impressed by Jedrzejewski’s colourful, inventive and imaginative guitar work which manages to avoid the usual fusion guitar clichés. A word too for the precise and powerful drumming of the consistently impressive McKeague.
However it’s not just about the admittedly impressive musicianship. Despite operating in a loosely ‘fusion -esque’ area Toms’ writing is consistently interesting and exciting, offering plenty of variety and contrast, often in the course of a single piece. Thus he and the band avoid the usual funk and soul strait-jackets, yes their music is full of bright melodies and enjoyable grooves but they’re not shackled by them. In the musical world of Not Now Charlie there’s always something of interest going on.
“Nostalgia Revisited” may be a little too rock/funk/soul oriented for some dyed in the wool jazzers but this is music with the potential to appeal to a wide range of adventurous listeners, including curious rock fans. I’d certainly recommend the album to most of the people who are likely to be reading this - and if Not Now Charlie ever perform live outside their North East heartland I’d certainly be well inclined to go and see them.