Monday 16 November 2009

Jim Hart's Gemini - 15th November 2009

Thanks to Paul Smith for the photo.

Jim Hart's Gemini played the Clare Cellars to promote their excellent sophomore album Narrada. Their two forty-five minute sets consisted of original songs from their album as well as a rendition of Wayne Shorter's 'Infant Eyes' and a new unpublished track. The quartet features Hart on vibraphone, Ivo Neame (who is better known as a pianist) on alto sax, with Jasper Hoiby on double bass and Dave Smith on drums. The group is emblematic of the precociousness and diligence of the young London scene, its members are concurrently up-and-coming and firmly-established.

The vibraphone is an oscillating electric percussion instrument which resembles a large xylophone in appearance and timbre. Hart's style is influenced in particular by vibes legend Bobby Hutcherson, a seminal performer and composer in the 1960s 'out' movement, which was an abstractive development of bebop. Likewise, Smith's explosive polyrhythmic drumming resembled that of Tony Williams, another key player and innovator of the era.

Smith began 'Dark Moon' at a furious tempo, extracting fabulous tones from his kit. The group pounced on the number - the consistently melodic and contemplative Hoiby went up a gear and started to strum-pluck his bass as Neame tore into the tune with a John Zorn like intensity. Towards the end, drums and vibraphone were left to play the head in perfect unison, Hart's mallets scuttling up and down the keys as Smith stabbed the toms like a boxer hitting a speed bag.

The musicianship on display was simply outstanding as the group meticulously unlocked Hart's challenging compositions with unostentatious virtuosity. But the extent of the their success derives from the fact that they thrilled and entertained a largely unknowing audience, playing songs with shifting time signatures and obscure harmonies that never seemed broken-up or contrived.

The combination of the delightful ambience of Clare cellars and the consistently strong programming of its jazz night is always a hit, so it was a pity to see a poor attendance. Next up on 29th November are two home-grown acts: the double trombone ensemble Hip Bones with support from Spare Bed Trio.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Mark Perry Quintet - Jazz At Johns - 30th October 2009

Thanks to Amir Behrouzi for the photo.

Jazz at Johns is held three or four times a term on Friday evenings in the Fisher Building of St John's college. It is extremely well-run, with a large committee drawn from across the university and numerous friendly helpers. The lack of parochialism, relaxed atmosphere, and cheap bar always prove the catalysts for a strong attendance. The setting is functional, rather than charming, and allows for guests to either relax and chat a little further away from the action or sit intently in front of the stage.

Supporting the Mark Perry Quintet was Cambridge alumnus Sarah Tandy and her accomplished piano trio, playing a set consisting mostly of classic standards. Tiago Coimbra's metronomic walking bass and Rick Hudson's varied, shifting rhythms anchored Tandy's advanced, Herbie Hancock influenced piano playing. The group were tight and well-rehearsed, pausing and reentering in unison to underscore key moments. The high quality of the support was impressive considering the £4 entrance fee.

After a short break the Mark Perry Quintet filled out onto the stage for the first of two sets of original numbers. The quintet's rhythm section of drums, acoustic bass, and fender rhodes keyboard were at the back of the stage while the horn section of trumpet and tenor saxophone led at the front. Containing some of the nation's most promising young jazz musicians, in particular drum prodigy James Maddren, the band commanded the attention of the willing audience.

The quintet crafted music that was complex and forward-looking, yet gripping and pithy. Sam Leak invoked the spirit of the electric Miles Davis period as he summoned swampy chords from his rhodes before punctuating the gloom with shrilly oscillating right-hand runs. As Perry's cool-toned trumpet and Josh Ison's jagged saxophone took their turns to solo, Leak picked out and echoed key notes and phrases. Maddren's sense of rhythm was immaculate, tapping out polyrhythms in which the omitted beats were more significant than the accented. Along with the always impressive Empirical bassist Tom Farmer, the rhythm section was formidable. Out front, the horns sounded individually inspired but slightly disconnected - both from each other and from their colleagues behind.

The contrasting expressions and temperaments of the musicians were fascinating to behold: the laconic trumpet-gripping frontman, when not conveying an air of artistic detachment, gave off a slightly perturbed air; saxophonist Josh Ison had a giddy look of excitement, bouncing and nodding to his partners' solos; slack-jawed Maddren seemed utterly relaxed yet deep within the groove, occasionally exchanging mischievous glances with Farmer.

Individually, the quintet were captivating but as a unit sounded slightly inchoate. The band will surely benefit greatly from more time performing together, away from each member's duties with their other bands. Jazz at Johns has provided exciting new jazz at a thoroughly reasonable cost and in a lively setting. Next on the bill is the John Randall Quintet on the Friday 13th November.

Friday 6 November 2009

Shakespearean Sonnet - 2008

A twitch? Or did the corners of her lips
Contrive to meet (and since rebuffed, fall slack)?
I join green eyes in gazing at these tips
Of toes that bow, as if they fear attack.
I came to speak and say it all, a rock,
But now, a pebble in the turning tide,
My course reversed, I wait, take breath and stock,
Then flee with silent words left unreplied.
The moment's gone, and yet I see it still.
'Twixt past and present the future's never found.
I trust one day that I will have my fill,
And from the bonds of yearning be unbound.
To risk and lose, my boy, will serve you best,
Omission's sin resolves if you confess.

Norma Winstone - Kettle's Yard - 17th October 2008

The elegant untempered 1960’s modernism of Kettle’s Yard, the preserved house of the Tate Gallery curator Jim Ede, serves as an ideal backdrop for sophisticated jazz, with its beautiful baby grand piano and a number of paintings that wouldn’t seem out of place on Blue Note LP sleeves.

The Norma Winstone trio started their set at 7.30 and played for 2 hours, with a half an hour interval during which concert goers were free to wander around the gallery space. The music was grounded in the early 20th century classical tradition and mixed the sound of Scandinavian post-bop with European folk melodies. Some songs took the form of jazz ballads, others were reworkings of folk songs and even Erik Satie.

The end product was lyrical, calm and contemplative, a tasteful convergence of a timelessly classic sound with certain progressive elements - Venier’s piano string plucking/muting a nod to the likes of Cecil Taylor and Gesing’s didgeridoo-like circular breathing bass clarinet tones and noisy valve clamping reminiscent of Eric Dolphy. Winstone’s vocal effects are very much her own; she pushed her voice from rich sonorous lows to strained but taught high-pitched yelps and covered the spectrum in-between. The rhythm was mostly straight with lots of rubato, but at two moments the piano and sax momentarily joined together and swung strongly and ecstatically.

The musicians played unselfishly and as a unit; they never sat back or indulged in cliché and weren’t afraid to pause rather than get stale. This meant that the music contained a great deal of space and felt unhurried and considered. For the piano and voice duet on the ballad 'The Heather on the Hill', Venier adopted an Evansian approach, fluidly interspersing graceful melodic lines with rich and nuanced chord voicings. This created an ideal backing for Winstone’s singing and allowed her to show why she has proved to be such an influential and recognized voice in the jazz world.

Considering the quality of music and the unparalleled setting, the predominantly middle-aged audience was a shame. Hopefully there will be a few more young faces taking advantage of the student concession for the Roger Mitchell Trio at the Junction on November 7.

Monday 19 October 2009

Keith Jarrett - Testament Paris / London

Keith Jarrett is a piano prodigy and one of jazz's few luminaries to also perform critically acclaimed classical music. Originally a sideman of Miles Davis, he became a global superstar after the success of The Köln Concert in 1975, an impassioned masterpiece of extemporization that became the best-selling solo jazz album of all time. Since then he has continued to play in small groups, no longer as sideman, and periodically returns to the world's great concert halls to perform improvised solo recitals. Throughout the course of these three CDs, Jarrett's playing is sublime, though the Paris concert is not as outstanding as the London. Grunting and moaning, his spinning fingers weave sounds that are idiosyncratic and timeless: ecstatic folk, wonky blues, and haunting classical. Jarrett's oral sound effects are notoriously grating and there is a preponderance of twitching dissonance - this is intensely absorbing and rewarding music, but not for the dinner party.

Jack DeJohnette - Music We Are

Drummer Jack DeJohnette established his name playing with Miles Davis during his 'electric period', featuring on the seminal Bitches Brew. Acknowledged as one of jazz's finest drummers, DeJohnette has led and backed many influential names and in particular has enjoyed a fruitful 40-year recording relationship with fellow Davis alumnus Keith Jarrett. Here, for the first time, he is flanked by both bassist John Patitucci and pianist Danilo Perez, towering names in contemporary jazz and members of Wayne Shorter's (an earlier Davis protégé) much-lauded current quartet. The record is genuinely experimental, veering from tango (classy opener 'Tango African' featuring an overdubbed DeJohnette on melodica) to abstract classical, post-bop to free improvisation. Though perhaps conceptually incoherent, the trio's post-modern genre-bending is best understood not in terms of its component styles but rather as the successful summation of individually outstanding musical talents. This album is a gem of forward-thinking music.

Art Themen Quintet - Jazz In The Lund - 17th September 2009

The new Jazz in the Lund season was inaugurated by Art Themen and his Jazz Wizards, a quintet led by the British tenor and sometime soprano saxophonist which also featured Henry Lowther on trumpet, John Critchinson on piano, Andy Cleyndert on bass and drummer Trevor Tomkin. These éminences grises of the British scene began with a blistering rendition of the John Lewis bebop number 'Afternoon in Paris', filling the chamber with an effortless swing propelled by the rhythmic engine of Cleyndert and Tomkin - the former irreproachably slick and the latter interspersing a forceful approach with lilting latin inflections.

The band's accomplished chops were evident as they played classic material ranging from bebop and hard-bop to ballads. In-between tunes the casual amicability of the performers, ribbing each other throughout, created a light-hearted atmosphere - the audience even being treated to Critchinson's avuncular joke-telling. But this levity hardened when the band started up again and a certain musical tension became apparent. The tonal characters of Lowther's trumpet and Themen's saxes were irresolvably different - Lowther formed cool, crystalline notes with a delicate vibrato and immaculate attack whereas Themen see-sawed from sultry, breathy lows through bristling highs to super-sonic squeaks and splutters. Perhaps these contrasting stylists would have jarred if it were not for Critchinson, the chordal anchor, whose sympathetic varying of style and rhythm - honed for many years as house pianist of Ronnie Scott's - centred the band. When it was time for Critchinson's solo, a very personal elegance and expressiveness flowed out.

The show's highlight came when Lowther stepped off stage for the penultimate ballad, Strayhorn's 'Chelsea Bridge'. The song began and ended with unaccompanied bowed bass and was a model of soulful restraint, with Themen declining from the more dissonant colours in his sound-palette. The group-interplay was sparkling as each member paid obeisance to the tune, containing themselves until their turn arrived and, without exception, bursting out into a wonderfully measured solo. Jazz in the Lund has started promisingly indeed.