The Spotted Dog, Birmingham UK
This was the second date of saxophonist Julian Argüelles‘ current UK tour leading his young band, and was a real treat, not only for the packed audience but for the regular Tuesday night sessions at this Digbeth pub.
In an ideal world this band would have been playing in a better-equipped venue with a grand piano for Kit Downes, a more generous stage area and more seating for the audience. It would have been a ticketed concert and there would have been a bit more hush at the back in the second set to do full justice to the quieter numbers. But jazz facilities and venue opportunities in Birmingham are not ideal, and so some adjustments have to be made. Jazzlines, the city’s Arts Council supported jazz promoter, assisted to meet the band’s fee, and The Dog’s infrastructural shortcomings were partially compensated for – as they always are – by the presence of some discerning listeners (a lot of them jazz students) and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
But what about the actual music? The band was playing mostly tunes from their new CD, also called Tetra. The first three pieces – Hugger Mugger, Yada Yada and Hurley Burley – matched the recording and were played without interruption, bass and drum sections from Sam Lasserson and James Maddren providing neat links.
An older piece which shared that wordplay theme, Lardy Dardy, featured an enthralling piano intro and a lovely segue from Argüelles’ solo on soprano to Downes’ on piano, the soprano slipping into a quiet line of musical commentary in parallel to the piano for a while. The first set ended with a dedication to South African pianist Chris McGregor call Mr Mc. It featured a joyous tenor solo filled with rolling melody and energy, a combination which for me called to mind Sonny Rollins.
The second set opened with a really old tune, Phaedrus, first heard on the 1990 album of the same name with John Taylor on piano. It might be 25 years old but it shows how Argüelles had already found his distinctive character as a composer and wears its age with panache. Hocus Pocus and the Northern Spanish folksong-linked Asturias bookended Wilderness Lane (named after the road in Great Barr where Julian went to school) and Triality was the full-force finale.
The encore was another SA jazz-linked dedication, Peace For D – it had a great cowbell-driven groove and a superb group ending with all four players giving everything at once.
The pleasures of hearing this band up close and very live are manifold – they include Downes’ unerring dedication to seek out new and original paths through the music, his and Argüelles way of “dancing together” through a tune, bassist Lasserson’s energetic and spot-on pulse as well as lightning fast solos, and Maddren’s artful push and pull of the rhythms. Primarily, though, the joy comes from hearing and seeing Julian Argüelles not only soaring and swooping in long, long arcs through such inventive saxophone melodies but also giving his lines this extraordinary inner swell and ebb of energy, as evidenced by the bloat and suck of his cheeks, the duck and stretch of his whole body at the height of a solo. He gives us limitless variations of breath within breaths, rhythm within rhythms, song within songs.
For the ability simultaneously to deliver great subtlety of musical character with both emotional energy and intellectual power, he is one of the very best we have.
- For an interview with Julian Argüelles go here.
- For a review of the album and information about other dates in the Tetra tour go here.
Categories: Live review