Review: Dice Factory And Will Rixon Quartet At Jazz Nursery

Gritty, urban and fiercely contemporary, Jazz Nursery is one of London’s most exciting new venues. Established in 2012 as a platform for the capital’s emerging talent and still something of a well-kept secret, gigs are held on the first Thursday of every month beneath the bare brickwork of a Southwark railway arch. The clientele are young, beautiful and disconcertingly hip but the atmosphere is friendly and the acoustic is surprisingly good given the cavernous space.

It was an appropriate setting for the sounds of Dice Factory, an up-and-coming quartet led by tenor saxophonist and Loop Collective veteran Tom Challenger, who delighted the assembled hipsters with a richly inventive set of originals. Anchored by mesmeric pedals and vamps that evoked the music of Steve Reich, tracks from their self-titled debut album, released in 2012, had an industrial edge that seemed right at home amongst the cracked tiles and the reclaimed furniture. In the opener, an off-kilter number entitled ‘Gooch’, Challenger’s stuttering staccato honks and broken melodies were counterpointed by the metallic scrape of cymbals and bare piano strings. ‘Eternal Sleep’ saw the pulsing, insistent grooves of Empirical bassist Tom Farmer set the pace before showcasing swirling motifs from pianist Dan Nicholls. Contributing a thoughtful solo, Challenger soared into the upper register, playing fast and loose with the time and fighting with the insidious rhythmic undertow.

Drummer Jon Scott (of Kairos 4tet) was excellent throughout, orchestrating sudden stops and changes of intensity and driving the band on as the trains rumbled overhead. A suite of new pieces drew things to a close and it was here that the group’s mathematical and highly structured approach to writing was most evident. ‘Coincidental Design’, its melody derived from a set of four pitches reordered and refracted by the ensemble, was among the highlights of the set, blending beauty and internal logic.

A quartet led by young trumpeter and Guildhall School of Music graduate Will Rixon were more conservative in their choice of repertoire. The band’s first half performance was dominated by classic standards including ‘September in the Rain’, ‘Song for My Father’ and ‘Change Partners’. Tom Farmer seemed less at home in a straight-ahead setting but there were some nice touches from the group, with latin breaks from drummer Josh Morrison and shimmering, impressionist solos from the in-demand Kit Downes on piano. Exploring and manipulating the melodies, Rixon’s sound was impressively varied: at times dark and smoky, at others strident. Despite the well-worn material, the band kept things edgy and fresh which, after all, is what the Jazz Nursery is all about.

– Thomas Rees 

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Review: Arild Andersen Quintet And Reisjeger/Fraanje/Sylla, EFG London Jazz Festival 2013

Ketil Bjornstad Quartet

Great jazz demands virtuosity from its practitioners but virtuosity alone is never enough. Communication and sensitivity are key, and it was this that came to the fore last night, on the intimate stage of the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Performances by the star-studded Arild Andersen Quintet and by a lesser-known Dutch trio, featuring Harmen Fraanje on piano, Mola Sylla on vocals and percussion, and Ernst Reisjeger on cello, were both characterised by playful, beguiling interaction.

The trio’s first half set was a contemplative one. They depend on what Reisjeger calls “sensitive cooperation” and describe their performances as “readings” of original material, choosing to rehearse “options” but to not to predetermine the form or structure of a piece. For the most part, the effect was enchanting. Fraanje provided modal vamps and swirling soundscapes, rivers of sound accompanied by occasional vocals, so sensitive they they were almost indistinguishable from his piano lines. Sylla responded, his voice strident and impassioned, steeped in the sound world of his native Senegal. His melodies were tinged with melancholy and what sounded, at times, like fear. In robes of crimson and gold, he provided a visual dimension to the performance too, emerging from the audience in the opening number, his arms held aloft, and striding across the stage twirling bird-callers and scaly, West-African rattles.

Reisjeger was no less theatrical, drumming upon the body of his cello, sliding wetted fingers over the strings and strumming chords while holding the instrument across his knee, like an oversized guitar. His delicate arco lines glistened with distorted harmonics: fragile and haunting like the sound of old gate hinges swinging in the breeze. There were jagged pizzicato melodies too and whispers from the world of baroque classical music in the form of elegant ground-bass. The strongest and most varied of the three musicians, it was Reisjeger who maintained the interest when the mellow set began to drift towards the monochrome, the other players responding to his changes of texture and direction. At times, these subtle shifts were arresting. Trance-like grooves and lilting accompaniments belied just how alert the musicians were, listening and reacting without delay or a hint of hesitation, coalescing on stops, catches and harmonised melodies.

The Andersen Quintet offered engagement and interplay of still greater quality, along with a more varied palet of colours and intensities. The veteran Norwegian bassist, described the pan-European quintet, which featured Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Frenchman Patrice Heral on Drums, Swiss trumpeter Matthieu Michel on flugelhorn and Scotland’s own Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone, as his “dream group” and it was clear from his playing that he meant it.

The set was a whirlwind of tempo changes and metric modulations. Wistful melodies raced away into snatches of surging swing with the rhythm section pushing hard, urging the group on. Gentle ballads, like “Lucia”, and passages of introspection drew the audience in. They sounded strange and beautiful with simple tunes and chord changes that evoked songbook classics while remaining contemporary and free. It was almost as if you had heard them before, as if Andersen were rescuing old melodies from the swirling fog of your imperfect memory.

The bassist’s arco lines radiated warmth, like the soft red curtains and heavy lamps that adorned the stage, but his playing could be aggressive too. His angular, off-kilter duets with Heral, with whom he has worked in numerous different settings over the past ten years, were a particular highlight. The pair were all smiles as they second-guessed and wrong-footed one another, trading and reinventing ideas. They brought the best out of Wasilewski who stamped his foot and hunched his shoulders, spinning out lines and snatching his hand away from the keyboard as if he were afraid it might become entangled in the threadlike melodies. Michel and Smith were imperious throughout. The scotsman contributed muscular solos on up- tempo numbers like “The Fox” with altissimo holds and twisting lines that were heartfelt, almost Coltrane-like. His gentle introduction to the last ballad of the set, played on wooden flute, recalled the airy folk music of the Andes and was a further highlight. It blended perfectly with the enviable sound of Michel’s flugelhorn which came soaring out of the texture to take up the melody.

In a final change of pace, the quintet’s closing number saw Heral vocalising the rhythms of his kit, distorting and layering them with a loop pedal and playing over the top, thrashing at tomtoms and cymbals. After a nod from Andersen, the tune’s signature riff returned, the voices of the horns filling the auditorium and adding to Heral’s shouts: a climatic whirlwind of sound and a final hymn to cooperation and interplay.

– Thomas Rees

– Photo by Geert Vandepoele/Wikicommons

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