Tetra in full cry are something to behold. Leader saxophonist Julian Arguelles may supply all the compositions, but the process of dismantling, reassembling and playing them with joyful zest is a group effort with, it seems, pianist Kit Downes and drummer James Maddren not so much anticipating or responding to each other as sharing a thought process and Sam Lasserson’s bass a constant lithe, propulsive thread in the mix. They touched touched down at the Vortex on a tour playing material from their CD released last year on Whirlwind Records alongside tunes from staging posts on Arguelles’ now lengthy career.
The gentle, elegiac From one JC to Another, singing gently stroked chords moving underneath breathy tenor phrases introduced the band and gave way to a quintessential Arguelles piece. Bulerias, consciously based on flamenco dance rhythms, had a theme in which the saxophone’s spiralling phrases were thrillingly locked with the drums and punctuated by fragments of gutsy riffs that dragged the ear back to jazz and blues. The leader’s solo was a characteristic surge and flow of undulating phrases, listening felt a bit like surfing on waves of adrenaline with the flowing lines sculpted into melodic phrases. Lardy Dardy was a contrasting mood full of yearning and poetry. Circularity, first recorded with John Taylor and Dave Holland was another, bubbling swaggering riff that dissolved into a series of fizzing duo exchanges so that each member of the quartet had a dialogue. It was riveting, greeted with roars of appreciation from the rapt Vortex crowd. Phaedrus, an even older tune, also first recorded with John Taylor, was another reminder that any material sounds freshly minted in this band’s hand no matter what its vintage. Its another urgent, flowing theme, ascending harmony building flurries of anticipation. Arguelles unfurled layers and layers of fluid phrases, building intensity then it dissolved into spacious, exploratory phrases and chords as the piano took over. Little, by little Downes, as he had done all evening, assembled motifs and phrases, condensing the sound until glittering lines were flying in all directions.
Tetra seem to weave magic whenever they play and Thursday’s visit to the Vortex was no exception.