Warwick Arts Centre Studio, Coventry, England
Jazz Coventry, the Warwick Arts Centre and the Michael Janisch band clubbed together and bought their audience a rather special early Christmas present last night: a gig as enjoyable as any I have been to this year, and a fine way to end my jazz concert-going of 2010.
There were surprises beneath the wrapping paper – no vibes on the stage and therefore no Jim Hart who was billed to be in the band, but instead a gleaming Steinway and Ivo Neame in as sub to play it. And playing it wonderfully, sight-reading the tunes with little preparation, turning in some blistering solos, full of freshness and originality.
Another treat was Jay Phelps, who I have heard on recordings but never in person. What a player he is, an improviser who really does tell stories in his solos, full of articulate musical sentences, asides, variations in tone and timbre, in speed and atmosphere, raising the temperature considerably in the process.
Buy contrast I found tenor saxophonist Paul Booth never really caught fire during this substantial two-set evening. It might be that he has perfected a strongly pattern-based way of soloing that adds complexity upon complexity but somehow lacks the means to bring that style to an adequate climax. I always feel when listening to him that my brain has been engaged and my amazement at his instrumental virtuosity triggered, but my heart somehow remains unmoved.
And so to the boys at the back, the leader on double bass (and, briefly, electric too) and Andrew Bain on drums. Heavens, do they get the heart swelling, not to mention the feet stamping and the head bobbing. Janisch said he likes playing with Bain because “he understands my music”.
Bain certainly dug in deep, endlessly creative, and so cool he managed, at the end of the evening, to keep the intensity at full throttle while occasionally pulling his high-hat stand back in line.
Janisch, of course, is an unalloyed joy to listen to – funky and fast, so accurate and with such bounce to his notes, equally eloquent in arco mode, a great driver of the band and a great soloist, too. And a very interesting composer. All the material, with the exception of Miles’s Milestones and Strayhorn’s Blood Count, was by the man himself and all contained beautifully constructed arranged parts as well as great opportunities to for soloing.
It wasn’t a huge crowd, so for all of you who didn’t get there, let this be a lesson. The next time you see Michael Janisch’s Purpose Built on the bill, I don’t care whether it’s 20 or 100 miles away. Just go!