London, Jazz Cafe, 25 Jan 2001

26 Jan 2001
Simon P. Ward

John Martyn
Jazz Cafe, London

Say what you like about John Martyn but there's no doubt that after 35 years in the business he's still taking risks. Tonight he's accompanied by a sax player1 who offered his services after recording with Martyn in the studio the day before. No warm-up, nothing. And it sounds fantastic.

Sporting a natty pair of shades and smiling at regular intervals, Martyn leads us on a trip through his back catalogue of love and life, tinged with some typically elegant guitar playing. Opening with 'Solid Air's 'Man In The Station', like a slightly grizzled bear waking from sleep Martyn opens up his distinctive Bacardi-soaked voice and coaxes sweet lines from his guitar. A packed house sways, occasionally shouting out requests, but mainly just happy to be in the comfortable presence of a familiar, timeless voice.

Playing a good selection from across his lengthy career, highlights include 'Hole In The Rain', the ultra-jazzy 'Small Town Talk' and a beautiful version of 'Don't Want To Know' with just acoustic guitar and, belatedly, some superbly sensuous sax. In person, Martyn is larger than life but his stage show is a masterclass in the art of subtlety. There's just enough of everything to go round and when people don't need to play they don't. This is music that breathes and sighs, just like the jazz made by Martyn's heroes. And like a good wine, Martyn himself is ageing very well.

Simon P. Ward

1 Martin Winning.