Jean Toussaint, born in St. Thomas on the US Virgin Islands, launched into the Sonny Rollins classic for the encore raucously demanded by the sizeable crowd at the Hen and Chicken. On the last night of their national tour, why not go out on a carnival atmosphere? Was there a glint in his eye as he explicitly quoted the master’s solo on the original recording to launch his own final blast of the evening? If so, that glint
seemed to have been there all night. These guys were having fun. Drawing mainly on repertoire from the quartet’s current release Tate Song, plenty of bases were touched with ‘blistering’ barely doing justice to the intensity of the the driving swing of the opener Mood Mode or the more even but driving feel of Vista, the latter one of a couple of tunes penned by pianist Andrew McCormack. Mulgrew, with a stately rubato theme, dissolved into a scuttling, chaotic, anguished, free, collective blast. It had the feel of raw emotion, a moving tribute to a friend gone to soon. More ruminative and out and out ballad were tributes to daughter and son My Dear ruby, and Tate’s Song respectively.
What dazzled was the sheer energy and freedom with which the band collectively dismantled, warped and fired up all these tunes in different directions and with different moods. Toussaint’s playing was consistently impassioned , sticking fairly closely to the language and sounds of pieces that had the harmonically static feel of modal jazz with short bursts of dense shifting passages. Meanwhile, the interaction of McCormack and drummer Shaney Forbes in particular swirled around him, trading phrases, building layer up on layer of surging rhythm sprinkled with spikey chords. There were explosive solos from the piano, lightening runs overlapping and ramping up the energy and excitement, or spikey motifs flicked between Toussiant’s tenor and McCormack. Larry Bartley on bass anchored much of this, but he too cut loose with an arco work out over an insistent piano riff on the intro to Vista and really dug in on the closer Tunnel Vision in a duel with the tenor. The Gloucestershire Echo declared Toussaint a genius in their report of the Cheltenham gig in this tour. Even the man himself may think that’s going a bit too far, but this was unquestionably exhilarating stuff with a band that would surely raise the roof wherever they go.