Danilo Perez took the ‘Can you whistle the tune?’ question to a new level at New York’s Blue Note on Saturday night. Mid-way through the set, he cued the band in by whistling the tune, pausing to insist bass player John Patitucci join in. With a chuckle, Patitucci sportingly gave it a go. A few exploratory chords from Perez behind the whistling and then they were off, a frown of concentration from Patitucci and grin of delight from the pianist as zigzagging lines interlocked driven by the snappy, complementary groove from Brian Blade behind the kit. The playfulness pervaded the whole set, alternating with deadly serious, razor sharp execution of complex moves. Many of Perez’s compositions have audible roots in fierce grooves, overlain with angular harmony and tantalisingly abstract, melodic lines. Blade was a constant, exuberant, alert presence producing some of the most thrilling moments of the evening as he stoked the fires of a building vamp, or lashed a free- wheeling improvisation along.
This trio set was a big ticket gig in the month long Blue Note festival and billed as ‘Children of the Light’, the title of the trio’s album released in 2015 after nearly a decade as the core of Wayne Shorter’s quartet. They played with the same freedom and invention for which the quartet has become known. Perez was constantly setting up vamps that sounded scripted, the impression belied by his impish grin as either Blade or Patitucci snapped him a look. The looks were the only indication, they followed his every move.
The set started with a version of Suite for the Americas a long, evolving piece that seemed to traverse the continent in its different sections and rhythms. An elegiac piece followed, Perez and Patitucci taking flight with emotional and melodic solos. Then pulsating rhythms and a maelstrom of improvisation. A muted, exquisite take on Stevie Wonders Overjoyed evoked a singing solo from Patitucci before a finale of Perez singing the band in, orchestrating call and response riffs with the audience, beat boxing and whipping up Patitucci and Blade solos with two handed rhythmic barrages.
This was a storming performance by a trio of some of the best musicians on the planet, performing as if they had a single mind. It was simply joyous music making.
Note to self: In amongst the hurly burly of ‘yet another thing’, jostling for attention or needing to be done, remember to stop and appreciate the moments of of magic. The mind can play tricks. With non-musical pre-occupations distracting me (a lot) the last month or so, I’d been thinking live music had taken a back seat. Until I wrote a list
There were the ones that I actually wrote about: Chris Potter at Cheltenham Jazz Festival; London Vocal Project (LVP)‘s UK premiere of Miles Ahead; Bath Festival gigs (these for Jazzwise) – Brad Mehdlau, Georgie Fame with Guy Barker Big Band and ‘Stormy‘, a one women theatre show about Lena Horne. Of that little crop Mehldau, and LVP still give me a physical tingle if I stop and think about it.
It seems we are never short of great live music at the moment for the local scene. We took in an outing of Andy Hague‘s Quintet. As well as being a fine trumpeter and drummer, Andy is a prolific and inventive writer and arranger, making these gigs a bit of a roast for his band. It’s a good job they are all top drawer. A scintillating arrangement of Ladies in Mercedes still glows in the memories and George Cooper in peak form (only depping mind) absolutely burning on an Andy tune inspired by Giant Steps.
We took in a double bill of Zoe Rahman and Jay Phelps at the Colston Hall’s Lantern stage. Rahman’s was a solo set at the piano and she was simply glowing. A set of mainly originals with a sprinkling of other sources were vehicles for fiery improvisations. Elbows, snaking glissandos, plucking and muting strings inside the piano, all were melded into fluid lines that ebbed and flowed, full of drama. Never far away was a meaty groove, sometimes implied, often explicit. If we’ve seen less of her over the last two or three years on the live circuit, this is timely reminder that she must be one of our most assured and individual voices. More!! Jay Phelps band are also, individually, some of the busiest and hardest grooving musicians around. They let rip on a collection of Phelps originals inspired by a couple of years of globe trotting on his part. Sophisticated funk, latin grooves and soulful hip hop inflected themes were the order of the day. Phelps made is mark as trumpeter as a very young man. His writing for voice seemed to stretch his own vocal technique however.
As if all that wasn’t enough – catching a set of Alex Hutton stretching out on what sounded like a Bill Evans themed set at the Archduke (just on London’s southbank ) was a delight. With Dave Whitford on bass and a drummer whose name I didn’t quite catch, they were nonchalently swinging like mad and Hutton reminding me what fine, lyrical improvise he is.
Maybe not such a quiet month then. Wherever you are, it seems you may not be too far from some great live music.
Everything on the stage at Kings Place on Sunday had taken time. A lot of it. Writing lyrics to every note of the whole Miles Ahead suite; extracting them from Jon Hendricks’ head, notating and arranging them; a choir that can make the sound of a perfectly blended string section or the stabbing riffs of a horn section; it all takes a lot of time. Years. The reviews are popping up of the evening and the music. John Walters’ account is hard to beat – giving the achievement due recognition in its vivid detail. This is a response more than a review.
When the now nonegenarian Jon Hendricks was nearing the completion of his self imposed, 50 year undertaking of setting lyrics to every solo, slur and nuance of every arrangement of Miles Ahead the reaction of his daughter Michele was ‘Who’s gonna sing this stuff?’ History doesn’t record the reaction of the musicians when first presented with Gil Evans’ score for Miles Ahead at the original recording session Posterity and critical acclaim have assured the result’s place in jazz history. On stage, behind Michele on Sunday at Kings Place was the answer to her question (gleefully pointed out by Pete Churchill):The London Vocal Project. Pointing to Pete she cried ‘.. this guy made it happen!’ It was impossible to listen without the knowledge of all that had led up to this. all that commitment, creativity and effort focused into forty odd minutes: sure they’ll do it again, yes they’ve been recording, but they’ll never do it again for the first time in London, here, now.
A wild imagining? A crazy dream? A magnificent obsession? Surely Hendricks’ idea was all of these. The story of the last six years of Pete Churchill’s work with Hendricks’ to complete the job, work with the choir, premiere the work in New York and now bring it back to London is well told elsewhere . We got a little taster three years ago one special Sunday at Ronnie’s.
And then the finished article was performed, with a copy of the vinyl original ceremonially in attendance on the stage and the choir fronted by Hendricks’ daughter Michele, Norma Winstone and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke singing Miles’ solos.
And Hendricks’ lyrics.
And then it was just about the music. And the sound.
I can still feel the swell of the arrangement in My Ship. I can still hear the horn stabs in Blues for Pablo. I can still here that very last chord, like a sigh.
And I still love that line from Maids of Cadiz – ‘If you would know what beauty is’
Chris Potter and Nasheet Waits were locked together telepathically. Surely. At the climax of ‘a blues’ that closed the Potter quartet’s set in front of a full Cheltenham Festival house , pianist Davide Virelles and bass man Joe Martin dropped out and showers of notes from the tenor, fused into jagged patterns. They seemed to be nudged and sorted into rythmic groups by Waits’ bristling drumming as the two paused and chopped up the phrases in lock-step at a dizzying tempo. It was an electrifying moment in a set full of burning intensity.
Playing mostly pieces from Potter’s latest release on ECM, the band tore into his compositions. Snappy angular themes and bursts of rhythmically arresting hooks bookended and provided a platform for improvisation. The explorations were unfailingly intense, frequently abstract and dense with explosive moments. The opener Yasodhara launched with a spiky rhythmic volley and Potter showed why he’s one of the most admired tenor players on the planet with a solo that started with exploratory, darting phrases, before building to a a blizzard of tangled lines. Ilimba, with an atmospheric sample of drums developed a an implied poly-rhythmic groove, before Virelles unleashed another solo. It was an extraordinary display, squalls of notes bundled up into clusters of rhythm with two fisted pummeling of the keyboard interspersed with glittering runs.
Waits was in danger of stealing the show even before the climatic dual at the close of the set. He boiled with energy continually, building and building momentum. On Ilimba by contrast, he developed a muted solo with beaters; call and response and space to draw breath, as the atmosphere thickened. A second solo later in the set was unbridled energy by contrast, the fusillade pinning us back in our seats. The Dreamer is the Dream was more overtly melodic and rhapsodic, Potter unfurling singing lines on soprano with Joe Martin stepping forward to solo.
On the final blues, the flavour of the form surfaced occasionally through the swirl of colour and texture; bursts of scintillating swing, a sudden switch to surging post-bop lines from the sax, a series of ringing chords from the piano. Then it would all be chopped up again, perhaps stitched together by a hooting riff from the tenor.
The energy and invention never let up. There was a sense of elation at the end and the feeling we’d witnessed something special. It is multi-faceted and complex music and the gig an invitation to get hold of the recording, listen again and take in more of that richness.
Once I had a Secret Love. Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie favourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in. We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.
The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’ Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.
The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted. Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad. Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.
If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue, it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band. Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.
I’ve reviewed a few CDs for London Jazz News over the last couple of months. A bit of personal archiving here then with links and one (or two) liners.
Seamus Blake: A double review of releases featuring the sax polymath. Superconductor interweaves lush string arrangements with an electric band, Blake’s writing and playing cover multiple bases. Bridges finds Blake guesting with a Norwegian band. Tasty European flavoured jazz with more great blowing. The review is here.
Martin Pyne: A solo, freely improvised set on vibraphone inspired by tales of faeries. Plenty to enchant here, it takes the listener to a quiet place. Review here.
Arne Torvik: More Nordic fare from a pianist based in Molde (of international jazz fest fame). Review here
Dave Jones: A breezy, swinging set from the Cardiff pianist with a storming quartet (expanded at times with a bit of overdubbing to allow Ashley John Long to play bass AND vibes… yup, that’s two CDs with vibes on this month). Review here
If blog posts have been a little sporadic over the last couple of months, listening and gig attendance has not. A quick look back over the shoulder is in order. I fancy we recall impressions and how it felt to be present rather than details when it comes to recalling live gigs at distance. A couple stand out in sharp relief. Pianist Bruce Barth touched down at the Hen and Chicken early in March, a world class performer (a CV that includeds Mingus Big Band AND Tony Bennett!) , he’d not been seen in Bristol for 18 years he said. It was an evening of blistering straight-ahead trio jazz. The tingle of excitement is still there. We did wonder if the newly donated grand piano was going to last the evening given the energy Barth devoted to testing it out.
March also saw the 2017 edition of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival. Jon Turney’s summary for London Jazz captures the thrill and buzz. I am still thrilled by Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. The original themes and grooves are all engaging and absorbing, the afterglow that has remained is the unbridled gust of energy and joie de vivre with which the band played. Singling out the dual horns of Laura Jurd’s trumpet and Mark Lockheart’s sax seems a little invidious given the importance of the collective vibe, but their interplay and individual soloing lifted the roof a inch or two more off its moorings. To play with such freedom and togetherness on complex material marks this band out as something special. They went on to record a live album at the end of the tour of which this gig was a part. Put me down for a copy!