Birmingham Conservatoire Recital Hall, Birmingham UK
In the aftermath of 9/11 chances to see and hear U.S. jazz greats dropped dramatically and they have never really recovered. So when we get the chance, the moment is to be seized; when the chance is to see and hear such musicians close up it’s a chance to be grabbed with both hands.
It’s thanks to jazz education and the conservatoire system that this particular chance arises. Guitarist John Abercrombie and pianist Marc Copland are on this side of the pond to give masterclass instruction at Birmingham Conservatoire and took time out from the students to play a lunchtime concert open to the public.
They had no plan – that was the plan. And it accentuated the fact that Abercrombie and Copland are happiest being fully “in the moment” deciding what to play next depending on what felt right – “I don’t want to play a ballad yet,” Abercrombie replied when Copland indicated the possibility. And their suggestions didn’t even involve mentioning song titles – a few notes from the piano or the guitar with an invisible question mark hanging above them was all it needed.
Quite a few of the tunes were from 2013’s 39 Steps (ECM), the Abercrombie Quartet’s most recent album, which included Copland on piano, the first time for ages that the guitarist had used that instrument in his band (and thank you to Richard Iles for the reminder via Twitter that Richie Beirach was pianist in the first Abercrombie Quartet, 1978-1980). They included Another Ralph’s (Abercrombie explained that it was based on a previous tune of his: “When you run out of ideas you just start rewriting your old songs”), Greenstreet and As It Stands. The concert was bookended by standards Love For Sale and the encore, Hey There.
The playing was sublime, a marriage of styles rather than highlighting contrasts, but apart from the actual sounds they made what was most striking was how intently they listened to each other, responding instantaneously to a subtle change of rhythmic shift here, a harmonic nuance there. They picked up phrases where the other left off; they answered each other’s questions and posed new ones of their own. And they were so relaxed, yet enthusiastic in their communication.
Lucky students – to get a chance to spend some time listening to and playing with such wise men as John and Marc. And lucky punters – to enjoy an hour in their witty musical company.
Categories: Live review