Jazz At The Arena, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton UK
All jazz groups incorporate solo improvisations, when one player explores the theme and his/her imagination to make a spontaneous creation in the here and now while the rest of the band supports, complements, reacts to that creation; and in every band the solo space is passed on from player to player.
Last night I heard those “conventions” reach a remarkable level. Not only was the content of the solos exceptionally rich and rewarding in a musical way – melodically, rhythmically, harmonically – but it was wide in emotional range too. And the solo baton was passed from player to player with such elegance and generosity; it was as perfect an example of the balance between team and individuals as I can remember hearing.
The central, prime example was Clockmaker, a tune by guitarist Mike Walker, and one which the band has been playing from the start. I think I’ve heard it on every tour this band has done – and they aren’t able to manage a lot of playing together, being half from this side of the Atlantic and half from that – and it just blossoms further on every outing. Each of the four players had their chance in the limelight, each had something different to say, a different mood to create, but they were all thoroughly integrated cohesive parts of a greater whole. There is probably a tortured metaphor about cogs and gears and a clock mechanism there somewhere, but I’ll spare you that… It’s true, though.
And, to quickly switch back to the original metaphor, Clockmaker is by no means the only flower in the garden. Another Walker tune, Wallenda’s Last Stand, and pianist Gwilym Simcock’s You Won’t Be Around To See It (based on the standard Softly In A Morning Sunrise – geddit?), both also from the first album, have become equally established, and they are now joined by the younger but equally thriving Modern Day Heroes, The Sliver Of Other Lovers and Heute Loiter, all from the recently released second album, Internationally Recognised Aliens.
And then there is Just To See You, a newish Simcock tune so beautiful it makes me want to weep every time I hear it. The melody is first stated by the bass – Steve Rodby on double bass, replacing electric bassist Steve Swallow on this tour – then taken over by the guitar. As the rhythm is established – a sensuous, brushes driven groove from drummer Adam Nussbaum – the piano takes the tune and develops it into an improvisation. As the solo reaches a certain quietly euphoric pitch it is finally joined by the guitar in a way that feels so natural and yet is so exciting the hairs stand on the back of the neck. Tears and chills in the same tune? Wow!
A packed house, two generous sets, a lovely acoustic space, great sound, audience faces shining with delight in the foyer afterwards – the band chatting to the audience, signing CDs – all the hallmarks of a great gig were here. Simcock had earlier sang the praises of this new venture in Wolverhampton – and rightly so.
Next up for Jazz At The Arena is Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble on 7 December. More here.
Categories: Live review