London Vocal Project – Miles Ahead, Kings Place, Sunday 21st May

Everything on the stage at Kings Place on Sunday had taken time. A lot of it. Writing lyrics to every note of the whole Miles Ahead suite; extracting them from Jon Hendricks’ head, notating and arranging them; a choir that can make the sound of a perfectly blended  string section or the stabbing riffs of a horn section; it all takes a lot of time. Years. The reviews are popping up of the evening and the music. John Walters’ account is hard to beat – giving the achievement due recognition in its vivid detail.  This is a response more than a review.

When the now nonegenarian Jon Hendricks was nearing the completion of his self imposed, 50  year undertaking of setting lyrics to every solo, slur and nuance of every arrangement of Miles Ahead the IMG_8066reaction of his daughter Michele was  ‘Who’s gonna sing this stuff?’  History doesn’t record the reaction of the  musicians when first presented with Gil Evans’ score for Miles Ahead at the original recording session   Posterity and critical acclaim have assured the result’s place in jazz history.    On stage, behind Michele on Sunday at Kings Place was the answer to her question (gleefully pointed out by Pete Churchill):The London Vocal Project.  Pointing to Pete she cried ‘.. this guy made it happen!’  It was impossible to listen without the knowledge of all that had led up to this.   all that commitment, creativity and effort focused into forty odd minutes: sure they’ll do it again, yes they’ve been recording, but they’ll never do it again for the first time in London, here, now.

A wild imagining? A crazy dream? A magnificent obsession?  Surely Hendricks’ idea was all of these. The story of the last six years of Pete Churchill’s work with Hendricks’ to complete the job, work with the choir, premiere the work in New York and now bring it back to London is well told elsewhere . We got a little taster three years ago one special Sunday at Ronnie’s.

And then the finished article was performed, with a copy of the vinyl original ceremonially in attendance on the stage and the choir fronted by Hendricks’ daughter Michele, Norma Winstone and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke singing Miles’ solos.

And Hendricks’ lyrics.

And then it was just about the music. And the sound.

I can still feel the swell of the arrangement in My Ship. I can still hear the horn stabs in Blues for Pablo. I can still here that very last chord, like a sigh.

And I still love that line from Maids of Cadiz – ‘If you would know what beauty is’

Bravo.

Bravo.

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Hans Koller Quartet/ Percy Pursglove Trio, Kings Place, Friday 4th March

Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records invaded London’s Kings Place with a Venn diagram of a double-bill on Friday and, as I happened to be town, the lure was irresistible. Pianist Hans Koller and  trumpeter –  bass player Percy Pursglove were the common factor between the two bands.  Pursglove’s trio was completed by Paul Clarvis, for once restricting his rhythmic alchemy to use of a conventional drum kit and Koller’s Quartet by a slice of New York, in the shape of drummer Jeff Williams and newly re-located to Birmingham, altoist John O’Gallagher.

The music was overlapping and contrasting as were the personnel. The trio were playing versions of music originally written by Pursglove as a choral and large jazz ensemble work, Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls. With long composed sections of smoothly unwinding melodic lines, shadowed by singing harmony and unexpected shifts, there was a reflective air to much of the short set of of four pieces, inspired by text or ideas from Anne Franck, Nelson Madela, Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin. Clarvis was a joy, often subtly nudging and colouring the implied rhythm of the trumpet’s lines, at others stepping forward and driving things along.  Pursglove alternated between trumpet and bass, keeping up a subtle dialogue with Koller on piano, the bass in particular weaving around the pianist’s thoughtful, fluid lines.

The quartet, playing a handful of Koller originals, exploring George Russell’s methods according to the leader, had a similarly melodic thread but with sharper edges, the phrases zig-zagging and swooping across the saxophone’s range. O’Gallagher and Williams’ partnership crackled as they pumped up the energy generating a grooving, anguished swing as the saxophonist explored, dissected and re-worked Koller’s pieces.   They brought a whiff of fierce, serious-minded New York style exploration to the hall, matching  Koller’s cerebral but thoroughly grounded, communicative approach.  They closed the set on a distorted almost bluesey shuffling groover leaving the audience wanting more.  ‘We’ve got another hard one’ said Koller.  We cheered.