CANDY TIME The Theatre, Weymouth College 24 November 1999
After three series' worth of Fast Show put-ons you might wonder whether anyone still has the courage to be seen openly playing jazz in Britain, but fortunately pockets of resilience and resistance still exist if you know where to look for them. Weymouth College probably doesn't carry the same kind of clout as Ronnie Scott's in terms of jazz kudos, but it was a pleasant surprise to see a broad cross-section running from Nirvana t-shirted skate kids to ageing hipsters huddled around the check-clothed tables. (Tables at a gig?!)
Candy Time are a British quartet whose members have performed with the likes of Loose Tubes, The London Sinfonietta, John Harle Band, Robert Plant and The Beautiful South. Their guitar/bass/drums/sax line-up suggested that their poor saxophonist might get lumbered with the brunt of the authentic jazz improvisation, leaving everybody else to stand round riffing merrily, but happily for group democracy this was not the case. They played a mixture of their own compositions, heavily reworked interpretations of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk obscurities and even a jazz-rock meltdown of two Irish jigs, introduced self-deprecatingly by guitarist James Woodrow as "a jazz odyssey written by our bassist", so they've clearly been watching all the right films.
There were moments when tonight approached the sort of ecstatic freewheeling chaos that characterises the best progressive electric jazz, when proceedings aspired to (and almost attained) a Mahavishnu Orchestra-like perfection. Some of the tussling between their recently inducted drummer and bassist Phil Scragg pushed the tension level towards unbelievable. And even their own compositions were a pleasant enough way of passing ten minutes at a time. The evening's undoubted highlight occurred early on, however, with an astounding take on John Coltrane's "Miles' Mode", imbued with all the stomach-churning gravitational lurch of walking into an empty lift shaft.
The release of their home-brewed eponymous CD is imminent, but, terrific as they were tonight I won't be in the queue to buy it. What makes Candy Time treasurable is the fact that they're actually playing and revitalising the works of people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, providing a rare but precious opportunity to hear this great music interpreted live. For home listening the attraction is diminished - after all, why listen to Candy Time playing Miles and Coltrane when you could be listening to Miles and Coltrane instead? Nevertheless, their enthusiasm is infectious, and if they turn up to play an unlikely venue near you an interesting evening is guaranteed to even the complete jazz neophyte (such as myself, for example!).