There was something about the way Jim Hart took his jacket off that seemed to say ‘right, now we are really getting down to business’. The band launched into ‘Bird Brain’ and it was clear why the metaphoric rolling up of sleeves was necessary. Lightening fragments of boppish phrases were fired off at odd intervals, frequently doubled by the well prepared Hart and Tori Freestone on tenor cutting across stuttering rythmns from the locked bass and drums of Jaspar Hoiby and Dale Hamblett. It was adrenalin rush stuff and, as he did on several occasions during the evening, Jim Hart worked some magic that despite the frenetic action from the band , steadily built the intensity and excitement even further during his solo. There was much to admire about this gig. Ivo Neame’s writing is complex, multi layered and detailed. There’s plenty to grab the attention first time round and lots to return to on repeated listens (yup, we bought the CD), a wonky groove and ear tweaking melodic fragments are never far away but they appear and fade creating different moods. The playing of each of these fine musicians was uniformly dazzling. The standouts on this evening were for me the ensemble and some individual moments of brain melting brilliance. As the compositions ebbed and flowed, the band managed the trick of sounding like they were playing freely, casually throwing in improvised phrases here, barking staccato rhythms there; the fact that many of the phrase were doubled or harmonised signalled it was often anything but casual. This was a high wire act with everyone playing their part.
It wasn’t a completely even performance. Bird Brain in the first set really turned the heat up after “American Jesus’ and and the attractive ‘Moonbathing’ had prepared us for the range of textures in the sound. Ivo Neame seemed to really lift off in ‘Owl of Me’ in the second set, his solo one of those breathtaking moments; flurries of phrases and abstract chords overlapping until a strong melodic logic appeared like mist parting and dazzling runs and crescendos carried us along. Jim Hart supplied yet another in the closer ‘Yatra’ repeated figures bringing out the latin character and whirlwind riffs knocking the breath out of us. ‘He’s ***** brilliant’ someone whispered in my ear at the climax. Nicely put. What a great start to Ian Storrer’s season at the Hen and Chicken. It wasn’t just me. Jon Turney lapped it up too. There’s more to come with the quality looking equally high. Full details of the season here