City Of Sounds/Jazzlines
Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham UK
The final Jazzlines performance in this lovely concert hall which has so many special memories for Jazzlines/Birmingham Jazz audiences featured, thoroughly appropriately, one of the most important musicians to come out of the West Midlands, and if he hasn’t lived here since his teens he has still been a frequent visitor.
Tetra is the saxophonist’s young trio of Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (bass) and James Maddren (drums) and for this concert they were joined by trumpeter Percy Pursglove. Of Tetra’s recent performances in the Midlands – a rain-drenched tent in Coventry town centre and the lively pub, The Spotted Dog, in Digbeth – the ABH provided them with their most sympathetic setting as well as a grand piano.
They opened with a dedication to Argüelles’ one-time boss, South African pianist Chris McGregor, and followed it with the flamenco-rhythmed Bulerias, A Lifelong Moment, a tune I missed the name of, the linked Simple Question and another Spanish-influenced piece, Asturias, closing with Triality.
Tetra’s fairly busy gigging schedule was apparent from the start in the looser, free-er, all-the-time-in-the-world impression they gave, even when the demands of the music were pretty exacting and the pace leaned towards hectic.
Pursglove’s earlier solos were lovely but felt a little tacked on, but by the time the band reached Asturias it sounded like he had been in the band for decades, his flugelhorn highly effective in solo spots and blending seamlessly with Argüelles’ tenor. The trio were hugely supportive throughout while simultaneously having their own fun in the background, though Downes’ solo contributions felt a little subdued. Maybe he was making space for Pursglove.
But, naturally, the main spotlight fell on one of the very finest saxophonists in modern jazz in this – or for that matter in any – country. Argüelles did pick up the silver soprano once and showed his rich tone even way up high in the little sax’s range, but mainly he concentrated on his silver tenor. Early recordings that I keep going back to show that the characteristic way with a rising and falling pattern, the expanding and contracting expression, the highly personal melodic sense, were all there at an early age. And they are all still there as he enter his 50s, but so much more developed now and expanded. And added to them, presumably helped by his inclination to play in a trio format in the early noughties, is a big, beefy exuberance that almost reaches Sonny Rollins’ stature at times. These days he has also expanded his timbral range with occasional dirty distortions upsetting that glorious smoothness. The nut crunch in the chocolate.
His compositions are rock solid in their structures and highly evocative in such a range of emotions that I am surprised they are not more often covered by others. Maybe it’s that they are so strongly linked to Argüelles’ particular style of playing? Maybe there’s room for a student project featuring just JA compositions…
I’m sure the Tom Niblock band – Niblock on alto, Alex Astbury on trumpet and flugelhorn, Elliott Sansom on piano, Aran Bahmaie on double bass and Gwilym Jones on drums – which played a first short half, would leap at the chance. Their set of three tunes, two by Niblock and one by another guest trumpeter – Astbury – suggested in a cool-meets-(Kenny)Wheeler manner that they are fully in tune with the modern English jazz zeitgeist. I really need to have this comment on a save-string, but it remains true: every time I hear a young Birmingham Conservatoire band it seems to be even more assured and mature than the last. Lovely stuff all round.
Categories: Live review