Jazz Arena and Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham UK
Like Lee Konitz and others before him, the U.S. jazz master John Scofield has found fertile common musical ground with a young European trio, this one from Cologne and comprising Pablo Held on piano, Robert Landermann on double bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums.
I’m always interested to see how a band with both guitar and piano will negotiate the relationship between the two chordal instruments and this one took the classic route of treating the guitar like a horn, Scofield playing single note lines for the most part, especially in his solos, with Held comping or laying out entirely, and then laying out himself during Held’s improvisations.
The material ranged from Held originals to the standard Just In Time. The chief delight delight was in hearing Scofield over an acoustic band and luxuriating not only in his eloquent line (one fellow audience member said he remembered Miles Davis saying that Scofield solos could be turned into great tunes, so strong was his melodic line) but also in his ability to tailor his tone to each note in an almost vocal way. That tarnished, filigreed, metallic sound gleamed with added depth over the top of the band. But coming a close second was hearing the trio with all its touring dues paid cohesion raising its game in the company of the great man.
There was a gentler earth-leaving moment during Just In Time, but generally the concert was solid but earthbound up until the finale, Held’s tune João. It would have bee great to hear a second set building from there.
Saxophonist and composer Julian Argüelles expanding his current quartet – Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums – with three more horns – George Crowley on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Percy Pursglove on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Kieran McLeod on trombone – was always going to be a temptation for a big fan of the Argüelles Octet of the late ’90s.
And a treat it turned out to be. Some music was new, some expanded from smaller group arrangements or distilled from larger ones, most tunes had jokey double-word rhyming titles like Hocus Pocus, Hurly Burly and Nitty Gritty.
Everyone contributed strongly to what at times were, I imagine, fairly demanding charts, but this music has such melodic and harmonic strength that it wears its complexities lightly, and never at the expense of emotional connection.
What Argüelles manages so well, and in this he is like most great jazz composers, is transferring his own playing style and character from his saxophone into his writing, and yet then giving it enough freedom that other musicians can express themselves within that character and style. As well as that distinctive somehow quintessentially English harmony over a subtle Spanish tinged rhythm (Argüelles is true to his lineage as well as the country of his birth), his playing has a rich ebb and flow, pull and release, breathing quality. You can see it most clearly in the constant movement – bulging bullfrog one second, sucked in the next – of his cheeks, you can hear it in the tonal, timbral nuances of his horn, and you can hear it in the whole group sound of his band.
This was a generous and hugely rewarding hour and half-long, single-set performance to round off a busy Sunday at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I sincerely hope this Septet set finds its way onto record before too long.
- Photos © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk and not to be used without permission.
Categories: Live review