Five-Way Split – May 2024

Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 10 May 2024

Quentin Collins trumpet & flugelhorn | Vasilis Xenopoulos soprano & tenor saxophones | Rob Barron Fender Rhodes piano | Matyas Hofecker bass | Matt Home drums

The spirit of jazz was born in adversity and jazz musicians are by nature creative and enterprising individuals. It should therefore come as no surprise that the members of Five Way Split navigated a successful passage through lockdown, despite all the professional hardships they faced. They emerged with a new band, pulsing with energy and honed to perfection through hours of rehearsal, and with an entire book of freshly minted compositions by Quentin Collins, Vasilis Xenopoulos and Rob Barron, plus some new arrangements of old favourites. As the old adage continues to remind us – ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’.

And what a way! The opening bars of ‘Out of Wayne’s Bag’, a soulful tribute to the much-lamented Wayne Shorter, shook the rafters. Not a microphone in sight, and yet this band had the impact of an ensemble twice its size; the mellow tones of Rob Barron’s classic, 1975-vintage, Rhodes-Fender keyboard blending perfectly with the powerful front line of Quentin Collins’ trumpet and Vasilis Xenopoulos’ tenor sax.

Rob Barron’s ’Lingua Franca’ expressed the universal language of jazz in a joyful manner reminiscent of the great Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet of the 1950s, with the front line floating on the brilliant support of Matyas Hofecker bass and Matt Home in the swinging rhythm team.

Home’s hypnotic beat on his closed high-hat cymbals conjured an air of mysterious tension in the introduction to the character of ‘Dr Stohl’, a platform for free-flowing solos from Collins on flugelhorn and Xenopoulos on tenor.

A change of tonal palette, with Collins remaining on flugel and Xenopoulos switching to soprano sax, brought a delightfully wistful air to ‘Mr Birthday Waltz’. It also featured a beautiful bass solo by Matyas Hofecker, supported by the sensitive touch of Rob Barron at the keyboard.

‘Evidently’ brought the first set to a scorching close in classic hard bop fashion with a string of virtuosic solos, climaxed by an exciting and impeccably executed drum solo by Matt Home.

I would like to imagine that Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Chan, respectively composer and lyric writer of ‘All the Way’, were nodding with approval as the second set opened with a reinterpretation of their 1957 hit for Frank Sinatra. Rob Barron’s sparkling arrangement brought the song bang-up-to-date in musical style, opening up plenty of solo space for the band’s principal protagonists, while paying homage to its status in the pantheon of great songs.

In complete contrast ‘Two Little Alphas’, set to an infectious Cuban rhythm was an outing of pure fun, depicting the mischievious antics of Vasilis Xenopoulos’ young sons – whose first names, you will not be surprised to learn, both begin with A.

By now the band had entered the realm of new material ahead of recording a second album later this year – something very much to look forward to.  ‘Soho Soirée’, anchored by a gorgeous bass line from Matyas Hofecker settled into a relaxed groove, while ‘XO Buzz’ explored the pleasurable sensations induced by good brandy.

Before anyone could drift into an alcoholic stupor, Rob Barron summoned a call for action. The band launched into an untitled blues (did I detect a hint of Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’ lurking in the background?). It was a case of ‘All hands to the pumps’ as the excitement mounted for the grand finale – blistering solos, high speed exchanges, dramatic top notes … and still the audience clamoured for more.

The band duly obliged. A gently swinging ‘Sunday in New York’, from the 1963 movie starring Jane Fonda, brought a wonderful evening by five world class musicians at the top of their game to a perfect close.

Five Way Split’s debut album ‘All the Way’ is available from Bandcamp here

Composer credits for the numbers featured in the concert are as follows:

Vasilis Xenopoulos: Out of Wayne’s Bag, Two Little Alphas
Quentin Collins: Mr Birthday Waltz, XO Buzz
Rob Barren: Lingua Franca, Dr Stohl, Evidently, Soho Soirée
Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn: All the Way arranged by Rob Barron
Peter Nero/Carroll Coates: Sunday in New York arranged by Five Way Split


As ever, our thanks to the Progress Front of House Team for their warm welcome and hospitality, to the Sales and Box Office team who have coped magnificently with the terrific demand for tickets, Rich Saunders for his technical expertise and to the audience whose continued support makes it possible to present live jazz at Progress.

Review posted here by kind permission of Trevor Bannister
Photo by Steve Foster @jazzshots (Instagram & FB)