Monday 30th March, Pizza Express, Dean Street
“This is a great place to play,” said Joel Frahm. How good it was to hear that from a first-time visitor, more used to the “glamor and sophistication” of New York’s Rainbow Room , as part of Jane Monheit’s band.
The Dean Street basement is indeed a good-time place, even on an unbusy Monday. And this was a good time gig, by a band which had evidently enjoyed its fortnight on the road together. The very first applause and laughter of the evening came before a single note was played, from the band table as they were having supper.
The time out on the road in Scotland, in the Midlands, had also clearly enabled this band of adaptable, highly in-demand musicians to settle and to gel together, and produce some very fine moments.
The front line of two saxophonists were well-matched. From the very first notes of the first number, Alex Garnett’s “Saluda” in homage to Charlie Parker, I registered- from both of them – absolute dedication to beauty of sound. Yes, Frahm and Garnett both have jaw-dropping facility, they have technique to spare, an ability to scamper through bebop heads together at Grand Prix speed, plus flawless tuning separately and together….but what matters for all of us who listen, is that both these guys have one basic instinct: to be kind on the ear.
In Frahm’s case I thought the closer he gets to Getz, the better I like him. He takes forward and re-invents that unfailingly melodic style of playing in a way which is always intersting. His solo feature, “We Used to Dance” had warmth and generosity, and his Brazil- breathed composition “Jobimiola” were highlights for me.
“Jobimiola” also brought two of the rhythm section players agreeably to the fore: David Lyttle switched very effectively to hands on the drum kit for this number. And Janisch produced a solo which stayed in that territory way above middle C and down low on the fingerboard which test a bassist’s ability to join up a melody to the extreme. Yes, that bass solo got the cheers and the rousing applause it deserved.
The Pizza’s brand new Steinway, onstage, resplendent under its shiny black quilt, was silent all evening. But, whether comping or soloing, Jim Hart on vibes was, as ever, mesmerising throughout. His jaunty composition “Cat in the Hat” inspired the saxes to forget best behaviour, and just to have fun. And, like the rest of the audience who showed its appreciation loudly, I too enjoyed his solo on Janisch’s arrangement of “Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing.”
It was great to hear that joyous sound of a band of top-class pros, fresh from a tour, last night.
While 120 businesses in Britain go bust every day. While the subsidised arts sector chooses to spend April Fools Day discussing trends in governance……..there is joy to be had in getting out and hearing good music.
And I like that particular fresh air from the rivers and creeks of Minnesota which Michael Janisch is bringing to the UK touring circuit.