Crazy Coqs, London
In reviewing Jay Rayner's Quartet at the Crazy Coqs, I need to declare an interest. My family and the Rayners go back a very long way, whilst Jay and myself overlapped secondary education for a good few years in Elstree. This review also daunts for another reason: Not only is Rayner a talented jazz pianist, he earns a respected and respectable crust as one of the nation's leading food critics. His pith-meistery is professional, whereas my punditry is purely promoted by passion. No pressure then, here we go.
A packed venue saw the relaxed Rayner take his audience through an evening of gastro-jazz and flowing bon-mots in an evening of mellow music infused with references and recollections of growing up as the youngest child of the country's favourite agony aunt (the late Claire Rayner), alongside tastefully placed nods to the culinary world. He confessed to having earned pocket money as his mother's 10yo letter-opener - sagely adding that most songs in the jazz canon sound as though they may have been letters written to an agony aunt, with the tale about the wooden cock (Coq?) sent to his mother in the mail, proving of particular fascination.
With no lack of modesty, the floppy haired pianist declared himself the best jazz pianist amongst the UKs food critics. He's probably not wrong, though the self-deprecation is undeserved. As confident and fluent at the (grand piano) keyboard as at a QWERTY work-station his whirl, mostly through the American songbook was a selection of choice morsels.
The evening's vocals came from Pat Gordon-Smith in a performance that was never less than assured and beautifully pitched with her interpretation of familiar numbers proving an utter delight. Her (almost) a capella Blue Skies, with just the merest hint of accompaniment from the talented Rob Rickenberg on bass was sensational. Dave Lewis' accomplished contribution on sax completed the quartet.
For a foodie to present a gig, one expects the links to be nothing less than cheesy and Rayner didn't disappoint. His patter on the subject of chocolate led naturally into That Old Black Magic, an intro that would have had Messrs. Mercer, Arlen and Rowntree smiling down benignly, whilst his closing number served up with a reference to a good steak, could only be Love Me Tender. The audience groaned.
Enchantingly corny? Perhaps. But unremittingly excellent? Unquestionably. Promoter Ruth Leon has unearthed another treasure here, with Rayner and his quartet proving a welcome addition to the capital's jazz scene.