Aruan Ortiz/ Michael Janish Quintet, St. George’s Bristol, Thursday 8th November
Invisible connections. That was the idea running through my head as I left this gig, a few personal but mostly there on stage to be discerned by all. The first connection: this gig started as the last one I went to, with unaccompanied bass setting out the stall (and it was the same bass by all accounts, Greg Cordez having loaned it for the evening). The flashing grin from the drummer was familiar too. We last saw Rudy Royston being surgically removed from the kit at the late night jam at Cheltenham Festival; he just loves to play! And he was endlessly playful throughout this gig. The rythmic connection was one of the threads that bound this quintet. It was palpable but not always obvious or direct. It would feel like there was a flow and groove, but no-one would be playing it, and playful Rudy would be cracking out a rhythm that sounded like it was from another tune with huge grin exchanged with Michael Janish on bass or Aruan Ortiz on piano. More often, one or other of this peerless apparently telepathically connected group would set things going with a stacatto riff or jerky pattern, soon to be joined by the rest jumping in the gaps or mysteriously doubling a phrase as it re-appeared in an unexpected place.
A solo piano passage preceded and introduced Monk’s ‘Ask Me Now’ that crystallised another dimension of this gig. Every chord Aruan Ortiz laid down had a delicious ambiguity about it; They sounded like major and minor at the same time. They led the ear in different directions simultaneously – will it resolve or is that the resting place? Each little run of notes had similar traits, not quite starting or ending somewhere safe. And through all that there was a ghost of a familiar melody, never quite stated openly. The acoustic in St. George’s was another instrument at this point and throughout the evening. The band were truly unplugged, not an amplifier in sight so the piano’s sound just hung in the air enhancing a meditative almost ethereal air. The band joined and Raynald Colom’s trumpet teased and played with the melody providing the quietest moment of an intense evening. That ethereal atmosphere was there all evening, even in more energetic number, something to do with the space and the way the band responded to it – this would have been an altogether different experience in a cellar bar.
Have I made this sound like a gig at which you had concentrate and do some work to get the payback of delight when a group of assured improvisers performs a high wire act and far from falling off create something special? Well you did have to concentrate and the payback was there. This band had Greg Osby in it as well as those younger turks. It had the sound of jazz well within the recognisable boundaries of bebop onwards; they even played a few standards, Jitterbug waltz was another. They stretched and teased with harmony, they stretched and teased with time and pulse. It was always there though and the invisible connection between them palpable. I want to listen again, one my signs of a connection made.