Heads Up! Jazz Quartet

In the Song School

Wednesday 19 February 2020 – 1:00 – 1:40 pm


On Wednesday 12 February we welcomed the Heads Up! Jazz Quartet for a jazz recital in the beautiful and atmospheric Song School at Brentwood Cathedral, where an audience of sixty or more jazz enthusiasts gathered for what promised to be a most exciting recital, and we were not disappointed! 

Describing themselves as “playing melodic modern jazz with a bluesy, funky edge along with new arrangements of tunes by well-known artists”, the Essex based ensemble have been performing together for four years.  As individual artists, they have many years of experience in live and studio performing, such as in pubs, clubs and festivals.  Further information about the musicians, Julia Austin-Brenes (saxophone), Steve Duke and Steve Gee (guitars) and Rick Wills (percussion), can be found at the end of this review.


recitalSteve Duke recitalJulia Austin-Brenes
recitalSteve Gee recitalRick Wills

After a warm welcome from Nina How and an introduction from Julia Austin-Brenes, the first piece, ‘Take Five’ in reggae style immediately lifted our spirits on a cold Wednesday afternoon, with its lively and up-beat interpretation of this great piece, ending in its original form, by American jazz pianist and composer David Brubeck (1920-2012). 

In contrast, there followed a new take on the ‘U2’ band’s ballad, ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’.  The sound was extremely mellow and well balanced, reaching out to the audience with smooth velvety tones and sensitive phrasing.

With huge interest and anticipation, we listened to details about the different titles, presented by Julia and also Steve Duke, whose original composition ‘Killergram’ was then performed for us: a piece which engaged the listener in thoughtful interaction between guitars, tenor saxophone and percussion. Jazz is a visual experience too, and we enjoyed watching the passing of melody and improvisation between these accomplished players. In all their playing, the group visibly delighted in each other’s solo spotlights, drawing us into their intimate exchanges and thrilling us with their rich sounds and syncopated rhythms. The Song School’s acoustics so adequately embraced these instruments, whose timbres filled the space generously, whilst expertly gauging the volume levels!

The music was carefully chosen with a range of colourful instrumentation in mind; for one of the numbers, Julia swapped her tenor saxophone for the sweet sounding soprano saxophone. Particularly poignant was the arrangement of ‘Autumn Leaves’ by American singer and song writer Eva Cassidy (1963-96). Had this been sung (as it was by Eva Cassidy), we would have heard the words: “Since you went away the days grow long, and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song, but I miss you most of all, my darling when autumn leaves start to fall.”  The sentiments of these words were sustained and conveyed movingly and expressively throughout the song.

The concert reached its climax in the final piece, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, by Bill Withers (born 1938), which has stood the test of time since its release in 1971! It played us out with ever increasing dynamics and clearly articulated idioms from the jazz repertoire. The energy was palpable and the musical rapport unforgettable! Loud applause spoke volumes of gratitude for the quartet, who joined many music lovers for refreshments and lively conversation in the adjoining lounge.

On behalf of Nina How, who organises all the recitals at the Cathedral, and Andrew Wright, Director of Music, we would like to thank Julia Austin-Brenes, Steve Duke, Steve Gee and Rick Wills for their exquisite playing and for sharing their many instrumental talents with us today.  We wish this truly inspiring quartet continued success for the coming year and look forward to welcoming Heads UP! to Brentwood Cathedral again in the future!

Julia Bentham


Biographical Details

Photos – Graham Hillman

<—2020 Recitals

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