Bridges w/ Seamus Blake, Vortex, Friday 29th November

It’s the sound that grabs the heart first. A ripple of an open, slightly ambiguous piano chord, the quiet sizzle of cymbal, and then a fragile trumpet blended with warm but assertive tenor sax, sliding down a thoughtful melodic line: Bridges opened their set at the Vortex with Introduction from the recently released second album, Continuum, and it had this listener gripped from the first note.

I wrote about both the first album and Continuum when they were released for London Jazz News here and here, and the combination of a bittersweet nordic lyricism, finely crafted writing and really top drawer playing, was a potent brew. They are a fixture in my keenly recommended pile. The opportunity to see them live was a real treat then and it wasn’t just me who was gripped. The Vortex was packed and the reception rapturous as they were cheered back to the stage for an encore at the end of the second set.

If the recordings are compelling, their live performance is in another league altogether and it was all to evident how important each member is to the brew, occasional pyrotechnic individual performances notwithstanding. Halfway through the first set, No Road for Readers, a spacious affecting melody that draws the ear in by starting with what sounds like the end of a sentence, was buoyed by broken, melodic fragments from Jesper Bodilsen‘s bass sketching a subtle counterpoint to the melody and moving harmony. It was magical moment and the bass a glowing, propulsive force all evening a with sprinkling of singing, high octane solos to boot.

Hayden Powell on trumpet was a considered and creative influence. His supple, introspective sound and quirky changes of direction nudged and pulled the whole atmosphere of pieces in different directions. On the encore, Seamus Blake‘s Jupiter Liner, after the long shape-shifting form, Powell’s solo spooled extended tones, bending and distorting melodic lines teasing the sound and energy into a dissonant darker avenue. Espen Berg at the piano pulled out another extraordinary solo, taking the cue, building patterns and a dense cacophany which eventually exploded in a percussive storm and dazzling runs. Blake ever the story-teller, reminded us where we’d come from with a distorted reprise of the theme before taking off.

Anders Thoren behind the kit has somehow orchestrated this project and it was his elegaic Song for Karla that brought the house down at the end of the second set, the drums, unobtrusively, insistently building an irresistible momentum as first Berg let fly and then trumpet and sax exchanged phrases and built to a passionate tumult to close.

This really is a singular band, all individually peer-less musicians, but with a special chemistry and beautiful set of tunes. Get the album. Catch them live if you can.

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