Chris Potter and Nasheet Waits were locked together telepathically. Surely. At the climax of ‘a blues’ that closed the Potter quartet’s set in front of a full Cheltenham Festival house , pianist Davide Virelles and bass man Joe Martin dropped out and showers of notes from the tenor, fused into jagged patterns. They seemed to be nudged and sorted into rythmic groups by Waits’ bristling drumming as the two paused and chopped up the phrases in lock-step at a dizzying tempo. It was an electrifying moment in a set full of burning intensity.
Playing mostly pieces from Potter’s latest release on ECM, the band tore into his compositions. Snappy angular themes and bursts of rhythmically arresting hooks bookended and provided a platform for improvisation. The explorations were unfailingly intense, frequently abstract and dense with explosive moments. The opener Yasodhara launched with a spiky rhythmic volley and Potter showed why he’s one of the most admired tenor players on the planet with a solo that started with exploratory, darting phrases, before building to a a blizzard of tangled lines. Ilimba, with an atmospheric sample of drums developed a an implied poly-rhythmic groove, before Virelles unleashed another solo. It was an extraordinary display, squalls of notes bundled up into clusters of rhythm with two fisted pummeling of the keyboard interspersed with glittering runs.
Waits was in danger of stealing the show even before the climatic dual at the close of the set. He boiled with energy continually, building and building momentum. On Ilimba by contrast, he developed a muted solo with beaters; call and response and space to draw breath, as the atmosphere thickened. A second solo later in the set was unbridled energy by contrast, the fusillade pinning us back in our seats. The Dreamer is the Dream was more overtly melodic and rhapsodic, Potter unfurling singing lines on soprano with Joe Martin stepping forward to solo.
On the final blues, the flavour of the form surfaced occasionally through the swirl of colour and texture; bursts of scintillating swing, a sudden switch to surging post-bop lines from the sax, a series of ringing chords from the piano. Then it would all be chopped up again, perhaps stitched together by a hooting riff from the tenor.
The energy and invention never let up. There was a sense of elation at the end and the feeling we’d witnessed something special. It is multi-faceted and complex music and the gig an invitation to get hold of the recording, listen again and take in more of that richness.
Once I had a Secret Love. Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie favourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in. We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.
The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’ Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.
The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted. Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad. Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.
If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue, it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band. Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.
I’ve reviewed a few CDs for London Jazz News over the last couple of months. A bit of personal archiving here then with links and one (or two) liners.
Seamus Blake: A double review of releases featuring the sax polymath. Superconductor interweaves lush string arrangements with an electric band, Blake’s writing and playing cover multiple bases. Bridges finds Blake guesting with a Norwegian band. Tasty European flavoured jazz with more great blowing. The review is here.
Martin Pyne: A solo, freely improvised set on vibraphone inspired by tales of faeries. Plenty to enchant here, it takes the listener to a quiet place. Review here.
Arne Torvik: More Nordic fare from a pianist based in Molde (of international jazz fest fame). Review here
Dave Jones: A breezy, swinging set from the Cardiff pianist with a storming quartet (expanded at times with a bit of overdubbing to allow Ashley John Long to play bass AND vibes… yup, that’s two CDs with vibes on this month). Review here
I’m still catching up with 2016’s recorded largesse as 2017 rolls on. These two excellent albums are wildly different but give a flavour of the diverse creativity honed and unleashed by now well established jazz programmes at top music colleges. Drummer Silk hails from Scotland originally but went to Birmingham, whilst pianist Dominic Marshall went to Leeds before migrating to Holland for further study.
Marshall’s latest recording Triolithic, released towards the end of last year, finds him reunited for half the dozen tracks with fellow Leeds alumni Sam Vicary on bass and Sam Gardner on drums. The rest are recorded with regular collaborator Jamie Peet on drums and Glenn Gaddum Jr on bass. There are plenty sources of inspiration blended into Marshall’s playing and writing but the lodestar is the blending of melodic lines, jazz drenched harmony, fluid improvising and the beats of hiphop. It’s territory he’s been exploring for a while, but this collection has the assured feel of an artist confident in his own voice. A liquid groove may never be far away but different atmosphere’s are conjured up with a playful hook from the synth on 80 Campbell Road, a dark modal work out on Deku Street with Jarret-like spiraling invention. Blue Lotus takes off with dazzling counterpoint. The pieces evolve and the developments suggest little stories. This is music that draws on influences and makes something fresh from them.
Jonthan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette. Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends. There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.
If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.
John Law is a man in constant motion. On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums he popped up with a band he called Boink!, three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape. The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar. There was a sense of them all now fully integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.
The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band. An early stand-out was And Them. It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax. I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum. Each of the quartet had moments like this. On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck. They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high. A vintage night at the BeBop Club
There’s only one place to be, if you happen to find yourself in Sheffield on a Wednesday night. Off to The Lescar I went. This week they were hosting guitarist Alex Munk’s Flying Machines touching down in Sheffield on an extensive tour promoting their album.
They took off straight away with a throbbing bass line from Conor Chaplin, Dave Hamblett‘s drums and the guitar locking in a groove that had a whiff of a skirling dance to it. Rainbow Line followed with a fractured, funky bass line and a snapping, off-kilter feel. As Long As It Lasts after a ruminative intro from Munk, had a hymn like melody traced out by ringing chords. Chaplin unwound a fluid melodic solo before handing the baton to Munk. The leader has a knack of stringing crisply articulated motifs into long arcing phrases even as the rhythm section revs up underneath him and they collectively lean towards rocking out. Matt Robinson on keyboards is the fourth, indispensable element of the sound. Subtle synth washes and tastefully judged chordal stabs or melodic flurries were ever present. On a new, as yet untitled Munk tune, a plaintive, folky melody accelerated over Hamblett’s hip, driving drums and Robinson let fly with a blistering solo, blending darting lines and blocked chords to build to a climax. There were a couple of excursions into out and and out prog rock meltdowns, but always lurking were artfully layered rhythms and harmonic shifts. Towards the end Robinson guided a more reflective piece with a gorgeous reflective intro before the gently rocking groove of A Long Walk Home drew another bass solo, packed with ideas and long fluid lines.
Munk’s music steers a path through all sorts of references with a seasoning of a rocky groove or a kicking riff never far away. It was rapturously received by a full house at The Lescar. Their tour continues so catch them if you can. The remaining 16 (count-em) dates are here
Penning a couple of CD reviews for London Jazz in the last month (or so) has meant the chance to listen to some of the emerging talent from two UK cities with vibrant music scenes invigorated by the presence of a conservatoire based jazz course. Guitarist Ben Lee graduated form Birmingham Conservatoire and his quintet with a quirky line-up of guitar, organ, sax, trombone and drums have released a romp through a suitably quirky set of originals on his debut In The Tree, released on Stoney Lane Record. My review for London Jazz is here . A catchy riff and rocky groove are never far away, but prepared to be surprised and charmed. There’s a fertile creative mind at work.
Duski led by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate Aidan Thorne mostly hail from Cardiff and have taken their time before releasing their self-titled debut. It’s a strong individual sound , with looping riffs, atmospheric fills from keyboards and guitar and rocky vamps . Gutsy melodic soloing from Greg Sterland on tenor is a standout throughout the engaging set of originals. My review is here . This one has got stuck on repeat in my playlist.