Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band Queen’s Hall

Learning just before I left home that Dennis Chambers was hospitalised in Alicante was not the ideal way to start this year’s Jazz Festival. For, in addition to hoping that one of your heroes is going to make a full recovery (and I’m told he’s on the mend), there’s the more prosaic question of who can possibly fill the drum chair in his absence?

The answer to that was Derico Watson and, while it is impossible to say that Chambers would not be missed, he would have been hard pushed to better Watson’s performance tonight. Combining power and subtlety, he and Tom Kennedy drove the band forward in a manner that belied his hurried recruitment to the drum chair, providing the ideal springboard for Stern and Evans to show that they’ve lost none of the skill that led Miles Davis to hire them some 30 years ago.

Not only have they lost nothing, they have continued to progress, and on this reunion tour they constantly nudge each other to greater heights. Mike Stern’s ability to play at a speed that few, if any, could match without blurring a single note is breathtaking, and must have sent some of the guitarists in the audience “homewards to think again”. Equally impressive was his obvious joy in being there, and it is this ability to communicate their love of the music that forms no small part of his and Evans’ performance.

They traded tunes over the course of the evening, opening with Stern’s “Out of the Blue” – a powerful, thrilling start that set the tone for what was to come. “Tit for Tat” from Evans’ Dragonfly album followed and the gig was packed with highlights, Evans switching effortlessly from tenor to soprano throughout.

Evans’ “Cool Eddie” tribute to Eddie Harris might just have provided the standout moment, but Stern’s blistering “Coupe de Ville” wasn’t too shabby either.

All in all, a night to remember that just might end up as my jazz gig of the year. It may be a little to rock-orientated at times for some, but hey, it’ll do for me.

Jim Welsh