The Jay Rayner Quartet: Songs of Food and Agony

The Jay Rayner Quartet

Songs of Food and Agony

Live at Zedel at the Crazy Coqs, London, U.K., June 29, 2019

Review by Thanasis Kalantzis for Cabaret Scenes

The Jay Rayner Quartet

Jazz and food go nicely together, and Jay Rayner knows that better than most. The award-winning celebrated journalist critiques restaurants for the Observer, has written books on culinary and other topics, broadcasts his thoughts on BBC Radio 4, and is a judge on Masterchef, particularly known for not sparing any feelings. A less visible feather in his cap was that he is also a jazz pianist, but that was all rectified back in 2012 when he decided to blend his two loves, jazz and fine dining.

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And so, the Jay Rayner Quartet was born. Rayner is in charge of the piano and the chat, his wife, Pat Gordon-Smith, delivers the beautiful vocals, Dave Lewis offers a truly mesmerizing saxophone, and Robert Rickenberg plays a killer bass.

Naturally, food and feelings were the subject matter, and Rayner, with great storytelling and comedic timing skills, connected the dots between songs with a string of hilarious family anecdotes and a drop of current-affairs commentary in an acute, sharp, and ingenious way. Needless to say, his piano was superb throughout.

What better song to introduce the evening’s agenda than the Cab Calloway-recorded “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House.

” They turned the heat up with the steamy “Egg and Sausage” (Tom Waits) and continued with a jazzed up, original rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, during which the piano and sax, both so rich and lyrical, gave us some amazing solos. Their bossa nova take on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” was just hot, as was the bluesy “Black Coffee” (Sonny Burke/Paul Francis Webster) about the pastimes of an insomniac.

Gordon-Smith’s throaty “Tenderly” (Jack Lawrence/Walter Gross) was a treat and her “Dance Me to the End of Love” (Leonard Cohen) was simply haunting. 

In between, just the instruments played a couple of lovely tunes, among them the “Song for My Father” (Horace Silver) with the bass stealing the show; the sax nailed it later with Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake.” They wrapped up with “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, devoting it to the unbelievable—by London standards—90F outside.

Fun and funny, well-thought-out and excellently delivered, Songs of Food and Agony is a good example of the many wonderful things that four highly talented people can produce when they are in the mood for good food and good jazz. 

Simply delicious!

Thanasis Kalantzis

Thanasis started reviewing for Cabaret Scenes in 2012. He started by reviewing primarily jazz and cabaret artists visiting from the U.S., but these days, he concentrates on British talent. Recently, he added covering musical theater to his duties. He was born in the heart of rural Greece in 1967. He studied Archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, worked as an excavator in the prehistoric town of Akrotiri, Santorini, and then spent two years on the beautiful island of Crete excavating a Roman village, among other sites. In 1991 he moved to London to study for his MA in Archaeology at University College London thinking that, upon completion, he’d return to Greece and continue with his excavation work. Nevertheless, he gave this amazingly diverse city a go, and started working with various companies, including the Horniman Museum, Sotheby’s and, most recently, the Big Lottery Fund, the organization that allocates lottery funds to arts and charities. His been in London for 26 years, and is happily married to his husband and runs a small, successful business.