Monday, 19 October 2009

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.

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