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
The Wildflower Sextet’s artfully twisted performance of Lester Left Town was still buzzing, ear-worm like, in my memory when I woke on Saturday morning to find London Jazz News had posted a review by Peter Jones of their album. He observes that at first hearing, many of the originals by leader and tenor man Matt Anderson could have come from the pen of the inspiration behind the music himself, the legend that is Wayne Shorter. The opener, J.G fitted that bill perfectly. After a rippling atmospheric blend of Alex Munk‘s guitar and Sam Leak‘s piano set the scene, it kicked into an insistent, driving swing with Laura Jurd‘s trumpet blending with Anderson’s warm toned tenor on a familiar/ not familiar melody. ‘Surely that’s from one those 60’s Blue Note albums after Shorter had left Art Blakey’s band?’. But no, it was an Anderson original. The idiom was nailed, but this is far more than a tribute band. They say they make music ‘inspired by’ Shorter and as they warmed up and the enthusiastic Be Bop club audience warmed to them, they really started stretching out. Firedance saw Jurd and Anderson swapping phrases and winding each other up before a deliciously melodic solo from Sam Leak wound its way through the harmony, all glancing boppish phrases, locked beautifully with the pulse from the rhythm unit of Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary’s bass (a trio of Sams!). Things really seemed to lift off when they put on the cloak of the modern Shorter quartet and deconstructed Mahjong, a much looser open approach with each section of the tune explored at length punctuated by flurries of the familiar melody, Anderson and Jurd again soloing together. Sfumato (an Anderson original before you rush off to check the Shorter oeuvre) started of back in 60s Shorter territory, tenor and trumpet mingling and then Jurd stretched out, lithe melodic lines drawing the ear on, ramping up the energy, a great solo and the whole ensemble coalescing around a lurching off-kilter funky vamp as an outro. And then the teasing arrangement of Lester Left Town, speeding up and slowing down to keep us guessing and providing a roaring finale to a great evening. They may have been mining a rich legacy, but they were in no way slaves to it. They didn’t even play Wildflower. Go see them.