A racing pulse from the cymbals, fragments of mazy meoldic patterns delivered at breakneck speed in unison by Tommy Smith’s tenor sax and Matthieu Michel’s trumpet, bass player and leader Arild Anderson nods, smiling and then he and pianist Marcin Wasilweski are in, upping the momentum further. Those fragments join together in a final furious blizzard launching a blazing, driving solo from Wasilewski. This was a post-bop burner . Anderson had started the gig with atmospherics. An echoey, bowed bass set up an accompaniment with loops to back a lyrical solo bass melody that evolved into an almost choral sound as the other instruments joined and blended their parts. An elagaic and elegant opener that was something of a tease as they proceeded to pin us to our seats with that burner ‘The Fox’ that came next. “My dream band..” muttered Arild Anderson as he name checked his collaborators for his Quintet’s London Jazz Festival appearance.
With all points of the European compass covered by the band from the leader’s Norway to drummer Patrice Heral’s France and Smith, Michel and Wasilewsky marking out West to East with Scotland, Switzerland and Poland, I wondered what language was used for chat backstage. If Anderson’s flawless English was a guide then accents may have been the only barrier. There was no mistaking the common musical language and accent on stage. There were plenty of excursions into rock flavoured ballads, angular funk and European folk tinged flowing grooves, territory Anderson has made his own with numerous other ensembles, but this band seemed rooted in a fiercely exuberant take on driving post bop jazz with the effortless mastery and understanding between each other to break things down, dissolve into free collective improvisations and then find their way back to tightly delivered explosive themes.
The connection between Anderson and drummer Heral was the axis on which most incident turned. Time and again, a change mood or pace was hinted at by a speculative chord from Waslilewsky or a held, burnished note from Michel’s flugel and they were onto it like a flash; disrupting the rhythm, fading out completely for one extended impressionistic passage from the pianist in the middle of another furious burner only to launch back in and ramp up the energy again with one of a number of extended bass and drum duels. Heral was a wonder, as likely to be using hands, battering the drum box he was sitting on as lashing a cymbal to goad a soloist onto greater feats. And they certainly responded. Tommy Smith seemed to be on fire and provided some of the most incendiary and tender moments of an evening that covered that spectrum. Even at breakneck tempos, he seemed to have time to steadily unfold ideas that built the excitement’ ‘look I can stretch this phrase this way… now that way… now distort it’ and on. Its not hard to see why this is a dream band for Anderson even if co-ordinating their diaries may be more of a nightmare. Lets hope he manages to continue to do it.
This set was preceded by another international collaboration this time between Senegalese singer Mola Sylla and the Dutch paring of pianist Haanse Fraanje and cellist Ernst Reijseger, part of a series in the festival with a Dutch focus. They delivered a set that by turns audibly juxtaposed classical like accompaniments with the characteristically wailing chant like melodies of the West African storyteller and then blended the sounds more around calypso like rhythms with Sylall adding percussion, mbira and kora playing and exuberant strumming, plucking and battering of his cello by Rejseger adding particular colour. The combination of the two bands spanning two continents and seven countries was a reminder of the global phenomenon this festival is showcasing.