The Gaz Hughes Trio: The Nuclear Bebopalypse Tour – June 2024

Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 21 June 2024

Andrzej Baranek keyboard | James Owston bass | Gaz Hughes drums

If football coach Gareth Southgate is serious about improving England’s fading fortunes in the Euro ’24 competition, he would do well to check out the Gaz Hughes Trio. It’s performance at the Progress Theatre on Friday 21 June, part of a 50-date ‘Nuclear Bebopalypse’ tour of the UK, had everything that was missing from England’s inept display against Denmark – perfect balance, poise, purpose, exciting changes in pace, the light and shade of emotional expression and oodles of energetic creative spirit.  Above all, it was hugely entertaining.

A passion for the cause, of course also helps. In Gaz Hughes’ case, an unwavering belief in the power of swing through the classic format of the piano trio à la Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell et al. Nor should we forget the musicians’ near telepathic sense of understanding (all the more remarkable given that James Owston was a dep for the evening) or their willingness to push the boundaries, imbuing the music with an irresistible knife-edge excitement.

All these attributes were well to the fore in the dazzling brilliance of ‘Beboptical Illusion’ and the relaxed slow-build of ‘AB’s Blues’ which opened the evening.

The lush ‘Beautiful Moons Ago’, a beautifully romantic piece, composed by guitarist Oscar Moore with lyrics by his then boss Nat King Cole, took us back to 1946 and paid tribute to Nat’s place in the lineage of great piano trios.

The classic Ellington/Strayhorn collaboration, ‘Satin Doll’, here revealed in all its sumptuous glory, worked especially well as a nuanced conversation piece between Baranek at the keyboard and the bass of James Owston.

‘The next number’, Gaz Hughes announced, ‘Is by George Shearing … but I’m not going to tell you what it’s called.’  It took a while before the familiar strains of  ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ began to emerge from a heady mix of Latin American colour, topped by the visually stunning display of hand-drumming of the leader.

We didn’t realise at the time, but the wistful charm of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, title song to Disney’s 1951 animated feature film, represented the calm before the storm. ’Nuclear Bebopalypse’ hit the audience with all the explosive force the title suggests and more. What can I say? We were absolutely knocked out by Andrzej Baranek’s astonishing keyboard technique and unlimited powers of invention, ably supported by Owston and Hughes. A fitting climax to a fabulous first set.

‘I Mean You’ opened the second set with echoes of Thelonious Monk’s fruitful pairing with Art Blakey in the early 1950s. It’s a fascinating piece. Owston held a steady beat on his bass while Baranek and Hughes freely exchanged ideas as they navigated the twists and turns of Monk’s theme. By all accounts, Monk was a man of few words, but I think this number would have received his nod of approval.

Bass player Gavin Barras, for whom James Owston was depping, penned ‘Disinformation’. The only covert message I could detect, instructed me to sit back and enjoy this exercise in gentle swing, especially the virtuosic playing, bowed and pizzicato, of James Owston. No harm done there.

Listening to ‘Shooting from the Hip’ was rather like opening a box of Turkish Delight, there were so many treats to enjoy – James Owston’s expressive introduction, Baranek’s funky improvisations and the barely perceptible sound of Hughes’ bass drum as it set the pulse – pure magic! What’s more, Gaz Hughes commented that unlike some audiences on the tour, those at Progress avoided the trap set by the false ending and didn’t clap until the tune had properly ended.

Andrzej Baranek’s tour de force excursion on Put on a Happy Face’, a hit song from the 1960 musical ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, did exactly that. One could sense smiles growing wider and wider as he became ever more expansive at the keyboard.

One quickly became immersed in the intense Afro-Cuban rhythms of ‘White Noise’ and yet for all its joyful expression, there seemed to be a tinge of melancholy lurking in its depths which particularly touched me.

As we moved towards the finale, the trio segued two numbers together, ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Straight No Chaser’, before launching into a reworking of Victor Feldman’s ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’. ‘I should warn you,’ Hughes admitted, as he interrupted an introductory roll on his floor tom. ‘This number includes a fifteen-minute drum solo.’ He was kidding; it only lasted five!

In truth it was even shorter, but what a tasteful and musical drummer he is and what a fantastic group he leads. We wish the ‘Nuclear Bebopalypse’ tour every success as it continues to make its way across the UK.

Our thanks as ever to the Progress Theatre House Team for their hospitality.

Composer credits for the numbers featured in the concert are as follows.
Andrzej Baranek:  AB’s Blues, Bebopalypse
Oscar Moore/Nat King Cole: Beautiful Moons Ago
Duke Ellington /Billy Strayhorn: Satin Doll
George Shearing: Lullaby of Broadway
Sammy Fain: Alice in Wonderland
Thelonious Monk: I Mean You, Straight No Chaser
Gavin Barras: Disinformation
Gaz Hughes:  Beboptical Illusion, Shooting from the Hip, White Noise
Lee Adams/Chales Strouse: Put on a Happy Face
Johnny Green: Body and Soul
Victor Feldman: Seven Steps to Heaven

Further information about the UK tour of ‘Nuclear Bebopalypse’ and details of album sales can be found on

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