Review and picture by John Watson
Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham UK
A wealth of imaginative, engaging jazz has been produced by bands that expertly bridge the styles of free-flowing acoustic jazz and electronic styles, but Michael Janisch’s Paradigm Shift must surely be one of the most accomplished.
The Minnesota-born double bassist and bass guitarist – based in the UK for several years, and running the excellent Whirlwind label – is also a gifted composer. Paradigm Shift is the name of his current sextet, the title of his new double-album, and also the extended suite which formed the centrepiece of this concert at Birmingham Conservatoire.
The wealth of Janisch’s experience (he’s worked with artists including Gary Burton, Wynton Marsalis, Kurt Ellling, Shirley Horn, Michael Gibbs, Seamus Blake and Roy Hargrove) really shows strongly now, in both his creativity as a bass player and his maturity as a composer.
With saxophonists Jason Yarde and Paul Booth, trumpeter and electronics effects producer Alex Bonney, pianist and keyboard player Cédric Hanriot and drummer Colin Stranahan, Janisch has created a dynamic group using a wide musical palette to produce a distinctive and powerful style. The music was busy, restless and complex, yet made musical sense as a whole.
Yarde – playing soprano saxophone with this band – demonstrated his extraordinarily fluent technique and tonal range with intense solos on tunes including Crash, while Booth spun wild but immaculately constructed lines with his solos on tenor, as well as adding a deeper tonal colour to the ensembles with long notes on the didgeridoo, a very rare instrument in a jazz group.
The playing of French pianist Hanriot was a revelation – flowing and endlessly inventive, creating great waves of sound charged with emotion.
The suite Paradigm Shift is in four movements: Dance Party, Christopher Hitchens (a tribute to the late writer, whose work Janisch admired), the abstract Bailout, and the funky Liza-Flo (named after the bassist’s daughters). On this last movement American drummer Stranahan’s dynamic solo – with the horns riffing along – was a joy. He’s a powerful player, but with the gift of using space brilliantly and creating constant surprise.
My only reservation was Bonney’s use of electronics – highly effective at times by providing a dark undercurrent to the ensemble, but intrusive in many places, with fizzes and burbling that seemed at odds with the music. For example, what would have been an engaging soprano sax passage featuring Yarde was overshadowed by a distracting crackling effect, which sounded like an over-amplified recording of a stylus tracing the run-off track at the end of an LP groove.
However, this was otherwise an immensely successful performance by a band which offers a broad range of musical colour, immense rhythmic drive, and a great deal of very satisfying music.
Categories: Live review