A superb helping of free (as in non-pecuniary) jazz last night when, with an old friend, I went along to the Caledonia on Catherine Street for what, astionishingly, was only the third outing by the Blind Monk Trio. The band does in fact consist of three seasoned pros – and it shows.  This was playing of the highest order.  Ensconced in a corner right next to the trio, we had a brilliant evening.

Thee three – Bob Whittaker (tenor sax), Colin Lamont (drums) and Hugo Harrison (double bass) are Thelonious Monk enthusiasts who play, in their own words, ‘a vicious brand of fierce chord-less Monk inspired jazz’. In two spell-binding sets they played scorching interpretations of Monk’s music.  You wouldn’t think that Monk’s fractured, angular compositions were made for a gig in noisy bar, but these guys had their audience rapt.

Blind Monk Trio at the Caledonia

On their website, the Trio state that they are ‘putting a fresh spin on the classic, chordless jazz trio format’ which is most definitely true: in a jazz trio comprising just sax, double bass,and drums and lacking a chordal instrument like the piano, the saxophonist and the bassist have to imply the changing harmonies with their improvised lines.  Whittaker and Harrison managed this with a fiery panache, and the drumming was superb, stitching the whole thing together with rythmic inventiveness.

Thelonious Monk’s compositions are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, here brilliantly captured by the band, who channelled Monk’s percussive attack on piano and his abrupt silences and hesitations so effectively that the absence of a piano ceased to matter.

The Caledonia has gained a new lease of life since being taken over by new management about 2 years ago.  It’s a free house, so there’s a selection of quality real ales (in fact, the Caledonia has the Cask Marque Award, given for pubs serving quality cask ale that has been properly looked after. The pub has also gained a reputation for its live jazz on Friday nights, and there’s live music on Sunday afternoons, too.   A few days ago, Jamie Bowman wrote a piece for the Liverpool Post extolling the joys of live music in pubs whilst discussing the difficulties facing publicans who want to offer live music:

Back in 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay describing his ideal pub. The fictional boozer – the mythical Moon Under Water – had draft stout, open fires and motherly barmaids.So far so good but for me George missed out one vital ingredient and that’s live music. It was a thought that crossed my mind last week when I was in one of Liverpool’s finest pubs, The Caledonia.

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