Alexander Hawkins, Mark Sanders, Jasper Høiby and Laura Jurd's Dinosaur dazzle a full house at Cockpit Theatre.
Headliner: Dinosaur – Laura Jurd (trumpet/keyboard), Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chapman (electric bass), Corrie Dick (drums)
Solo: Jasper Høiby (bass)
Opening Duo: Elliot Galvin (piano), Mark Sanders (drums)
I always love attending Jazz in the Round but tonight’s performance was extra- special. In addition to celebrating the fifth anniversary of this iconic and unique series, the show served to mark the tenth birthday of one of Europe’s most pioneering jazz and contemporary music labels – Edition Records, headed by the enterprising and extremely hard-working proprietor, bandleader, pianist, keyboardist and composer, Dave Stapleton.
It was the first gig of the year for Jazz in the Round and I’ve never seen the Cockpit so packed. The bar was heaving at 7.30pm and there was still half-an-hour to go before kick-off. The atmosphere was electric, and this was before the music even started. I shuffled into the auditorium with ten minutes to go but could hardly find a vacant seat. However, I did manage to squeeze into a small space near the top of the raked seating at the back of the room. It’s an area I always head for since it gives me a great view of the keys of the cottage upright and where I can observe the moving hands, facial expressions and body movements of the pianist. Tonight I was in for an absolute treat.
Elliot Galvin is one of the most talented, inspiring, creative pianists/keyboard players to have emerged on the British jazz and improvised scene in the last few years and this evening he was featured in two very different contexts. His opening set, a duo project with drummer Mark Sanders, was mesmerising, riveting and invigorating. Completely improvised from beginning to end, it was music of the here and now, music of the fleeting moment, music without bars, boundaries, walls, fences, rules. Spontaneous and free-wheeling, the rapt audience were taken on wondrous sonic adventures, Galvin using every muscle of his being to convey his musical message, to preach his sermon about freedom and passionate abandonment. Fingers scurried delicately, back of the hands attacked the keys with force or glissed gracefully, elbows delivered sledge-hammer blows, huge tonal clusters danced from one end of the piano to the other. Sometimes it was quiet. Other times, massive volcanoes of sound suddenly erupted out of nowhere, keys shaking, trembling, cascading. The keyboard’s innards were investigated carefully, lovingly as the music became more spacious, uncluttered, atmospheric, magical, spiritual. The space in between the notes became as important as the notes themselves. Then, it was beautiful chaos again, furious Bach-like melodies coalescing in a collage of polytonal and sometimes atonal counterpoint, avant-fugues created on the hoof. Think Cecil Taylor meets an abstract Keith Jarrett with a fair dose of Keith Tippett thrown in for good measure. Except Galvin is no clone of anyone. Like a magpie he thieves from many others but has the ability and imagination to convert his rich pickings into his own unique and potent brew.
In waxing lyrical about Galvin it is very easy to overlook the crucial part Sanders plays in the musical equation. Two musicians improvising from a totally blank canvas demands incredible empathy, intuition, and aural power. Their set illustrated unequivocably that pianist and drummer have these qualities in droves, the two of them speaking with one voice throughout the whole performance.
The award-winning Danish bass player Jasper Høiby of Phronesis power trio fame has been taking the jazz world by storm since moving to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music at the beginning of the new millennium. Tonight he was thrown out of his comfort zone to play completely solo for the very first time in public. But no one would have guessed that this was his maiden voyage as he cruised through three exquisite originals. He used pedals and loops to marvellous effect as he told stories of suffering and joy within a multi-layered mesh of sound. The beautifully sad opening tune, “Solace” with its bowed-bass lament, had the audience spell-bound, the other pieces, “Expansive” and “Crystal”, turning up the heat with life-affirming dancing pizzicato and looping contrapuntal grooves.
Like Galvin and Høiby, Laura Jurd has galvanized the jazz world in the last few years with her stupendous playing and genre-busting eclecticism. A BBC Young Generation Artist, her work continues to go from strength to strength since she co-founded the ground-breaking Chaos Collective in September 2011. Her new album, Together, As One, is the third with her regular quartet but the first to bear the new name, Dinosaur. Galvin, Chaplin and Dick have been with Jurd since the very start of her amazing journey and the chemistry between the four musicians is palpable. Together, as one, these soul-mates work tirelessly and selflessly for each other as they pursue a common goal.
The four tunes which Dinosaur presented this evening (all from the new album) gave us a snapshot of the band’s modus operandi: the absorption of a myriad influences and their conversion into a new and vibrant musical language, a language without borders. Electric Miles, Hancock Headhunters, Weather Report (Chaplin’s stunning electric bass solo on “Living, Breathing” was worthy of the great Jaco Pastorius himself), punk rock, Deerhoof, the minimalism of Steve Reich, classical homophony, Celtic modalism and free jazz are just some of the many musics that impinge on Dinosaur’s collective mind, all these disparate elements unified by a truly open, democratic and holistic approach to music. What Jurd wrote about the Chaos Collective equally applies to Dinosaur: “Chaos provides a platform for new collaborative music that draws from a wealth of traditions, focusing on raw, honest music-making that avoids being weighed down by any kind of stylistic prejudice. It’s all about that special moment when Thomas Tallis might meet the second Viennese school which, in turn, might meet eightees electro-pop. There are so many sound worlds out there… the future of music is so exciting”. The miracle of Jurd’s music is the unity that is ultimately achieved within its plethora of diversity.
The future of music is indeed exciting and, with musicians like Jurd, Galvin, Chaplin, Dick, Hoiby and Sanders at the helm, the future of jazz and improvised music in particular is guaranteed – that’s assuming the world has much future left of course. We are living in very troubled times where soundbites, rhetoric, post truth and alternative facts are replacing healthy, well-reasoned, civilised debate, real truth and hard facts, the Trump/Bannon dystopian vision of a disunited world of fences, borders and walls a threat to
all mankind. Isn’t it great then that on a dull and drizzly London night at the end of January two hundred people can escape this frightening reality for a few hours and find sanctuary in a place which upholds utopian values in a parallel and much greater reality. In Jazz in the Round unity, fraternity and liberty always prevail and long may it continue to do so.
Finally, we should all thank Jez Nelson for having the courage to get off the fence. Before we made our way home and into an uncertain future he urged us all to sign the petition against the proposed state visit of the current president of the United States.
Reviewed by Geoff Eales
Photographs courtesy of Steven Cropper