Returning from the bar after the interval, clutching my pint and still reflecting on the complex, layered pieces we’d heard in the first set from Tommy Andrews‘ Quintet, I found the respectably sized BeBop Club audience peering at densely typed photocopied sheets as the band settled back in at the front of the room. ‘Its the programme notes’ was the response to my bemused enquiry. Surely a first, certainly at the BeBop but for me anywhere at a jazz gig, to have the detailed inspiration and interpretation of themes, moods, shifts in metre and key and compositional devices of the music we are about to hear set out for us in a detailed hand-out. A gulp of Doom Bar and I found myself charmed by the seriousness and ambition. An extended suite of related, through composed pieces (for that was what was in prospect) is certainly an idea that surely goes back at least to Ellington in jazz (although I’m not sure he ever handed out detailed programme notes)
The Galilean Suite then is a suite of seven pieces that run together, using the inspiration of the discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo and the Greek myths associated with the names by which those moons have been known (for the curious, read more). What we heard was uniformly complex and detailed, but the attempt to paint musical pictures using all the resources of the band and improvisational imagination of these fine players was really compelling. Strong melodic fragments came and went against different textures and rhythms. Sometimes there were driving rocky grooves, at others more lilting, still others glorious ballads. Europa started with a perfectly judged sighing melody from Andrews’ alto before first Dave Mannington on bass and then Nick Costley White on guitar pulled out really affecting solos. There were climatic and thunderous passages with everyone locked and blowing furiously. Rick Simpson‘s piano was variously holding down angular grooves and then inserting rich harmonies before he let loose with dynamic, building solo on the Outro a real highlight. Lloyd Haines, depping for Dave Hamblett, gave a bravura performance. This passage of just over half an hour was worth coming out for on its own, a real calling card of a writing and performing talent to watch.
For the rest of the gig, the quintet’s recent release the The Crux was the source of the material. It mostly shares the attention to mood and texture and multi staged construction of the suite, all played with a freedom and ease that was genuinely engaging. In the end I didn’t need the explanations and route map to enjoy what I was hearing, but it was fun!