Who doesn’t have favourite albums? Ones that you just keep playing no matter who many new sounds jostle for attention. Julian Arguelles’ Phaedrus has been one of mine since I first bought it not long after it was released, and as he launched the band into the title track to kickstart this gig at a completely rammed Con Cellar Bar, it was hard to supress a grin. Why try?, you may ask. We didn’t want want to distract him or the band as we were sitting close enough to turn pages of music for them or pick a bit of stray fluff off his jacket!
In two totally absorbing sets of mainly Julian’s compositions from two decades of writing, the strength of the writing stood out as much as the almost taken for granted fluency and quality of the playing from the whole band. If Julian’s route into jazz, like so many people, was being transfixed by be-bop and Charlie Parker, his writing and playing seems to blend so many other sources into a coherent distinctive sound. And the trio of Kit Downes, Calum Gourlay and James Maddren seem perfectly attuned to it all. The one composition contributed by Downes was entirely in keeping; an urgent even quavered, at times mazy theme, providing a perfect vehicle for the flowing arpeggios that fused into long melodic lines from both piano and tenor that characterised so much of the improvising. The exuberant Mr Mac with gospelly, country shifts in the harmony changed up the atmosphere in the first set, a ballad Wilderness Road touched another mood in the second set and the closing number based on a flamenco pattern raised the roof and prompted the pleas for more. Ornette Coleman’s Chronology followed and showcased the chemistry between the quartet that makes this a really special collaboration.