LIVE: Chris Biscoe Quintet

I shall miss the intimate vibe of gigs by Way Out West at the RamJam in Kingston. After five years, and more than 200 gigs under WOW’s proudly displayed and radical red banner, the collective will be moving to new – and, I’m told, more conveniently located and yet to-be-disclosed premises…- in September.

The RamJam is such a tiny place, the claustrophobia and the drums can really get you. The band is in your lap and the music is straight into your head.

There are three more WOW gigs there- Tony Woods project next week, Nette Robinson on 22nd, and a final rousing end-off-term, end-of-era jamboree on the 29th.

Chris Biscoe (above) has been an active member of this purposeful group of local musicians since the very beginning. A universally revered figure in British jazz, Biscoe has even done spells of quietly and conscientiously applying for grants- and landing them successfully- hosting meetings, doing his bit for the team and for the music. Last night he was out doing what he really should be doing: playing, curating, hosting an evening of thoughtfully chosen music, with a superb quintet: Pete Hurt on tenor, Liam Noble on piano, Dave Whitford on bass and Paul Clarvis on drums.

How good was this band? Well, there were several times last night when I just closed my eyes and listened , and thought: a better piano would make a difference, but this performance is of such quality, Jez Nelson and Peggy Sutton of Jazz on 3 could just walk straight in and record and broadcast this music.

It really worked as sound, but I also enjoyed getting to grips with some of the powerful thinking behind it. Biscoe is modest and self-deprecating, but he has really got his ideas together about the symbiosis, the interdependence of composer and improviser as individual creators, having worked with several of the major jazz composers of the UK and Continental Europe.

Biscoe is relentlessly curious with the tunes he picks, always goes for the less-than-obvious, the quirky, the interesting. First up was “Black Fire” by Andrew Hill, later “Ascendant” by Jimmy Garrison, on which he played a mesmerising solo. Biscoe lives, inhabits these complex tunes. As a composer himself he knows every corner. As an improviser he also knows how to attack or avoid them. Biscoe works well with Pete Hurt, another soft-spoken “musican’s musician” with a massively fertile composer/improviser’s mind and technique to match.

The Pete Hurt ballad “Lost for Words” with its insistent rhythmic lopsidedness worked well. The sets closed with Liam Noble’s subversive tunes “Scam” and “Once Over,” the former ending in a full-on angry crash, the latter wearing a playful fixed grin of harmonic ambiguity.

Liam Noble is world class, and in his absolute prime right now. Or maybe he’s just getting better and better. I noticed that all the musicians in the room were completely transfixed by him, particularly in his mini-set of three duo numbers with Paul Clarvis. I don’t know of a pianist anywhere who can take the listener to such unpredictable places in the course of a solo. His approach to Whispering/ Grooving High was to let the listener capture oblique views of melody. In Biscoe’s “Milton’s Daughters” it was to cajole and kick ideas which developed their own logic. Noble’s range of expression is, to use an overused word, awesome.

Dave Whitford’s powerful bass playing was a feature of the texture all evening. Whitford’s pulse and sheer presence could propel a much larger band than this. Or, say, an ocean liner. The RamJam is a tricky place for drum kit, but a musician of Clarvis’ experience and sensitivity knows exactly how to balance in a room this small.

Great band. Three gigs to go. Catch one.

Categories: miscellaneous

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