In a parallel universe, 120 million Eurovision viewers would watch, and then vote for the type of thrillingly inventive music played by the F-IRE collective. These viewers would, of course, be unaware of the cheesy pop music being played in small cellar bars like the Pheasantry in Kings Road, Chelsea (above), where the performers nearly outnumber the audience.
Back in reality, and seemingly undeterred by the sparse crowd in attendance, Will Collier’s septet gave a spirited performance which showcased some fine original material. These compositions, mostly by Collier, drew on a broad stylistic palette. This was music coloured at different moments by Dave Holland’s polyrhythmic complexity, by Kenny Wheeler’s harmonic sophistication, Steve Reich’s minimalism and Charles Mingus’s raucousness. Yet each of the pieces had a distinct, contemporary character of its own.
There were punchy horn riffs on top of multi-layered ostinatos, effective build-ups towards exciting climaxes, pleasing stripping-down of the texture to a solo horn plus rhythm section, or just improvised conversation between two instruments. At times during this set, the septet managed to sound like a much larger band, a testament to the quality of the writing. The attention was consistently held by an impressive variety of mood and timbre, driven along by the propulsive grooves of Ben Reynolds on drums.
While few of the pieces contained extended blowing sections, there was clearly plenty of improvising talent within the band. Jon Shenoy on alto saxophone and George Hogg on trumpet—both filling in as deps on the night—stood out with some thoughtfully structured solos. After eventually resolving some difficulties with amplification, Collier also demonstrated his capabilities as an instrumentalist, making his bass really sing on a couple of solos. But none of the soloists outstayed their welcome, allowing the compositions to take centre stage.
The group finished with echoes of the South African sound of Abdullah Ibrahim through its soulfully lilting close harmony horn parts. The audience, though small, could not be faulted for its enthusiastic response.
The John Turville Trio were due to play the next set, but because of a late-finishing early evening gig and some fiendish Friday night traffic, Turville found himself in a gridlocked taxi when he was meant to be taking the stage. Going above and beyond in his role as festival organizer, Dave O’Brien stepped in at the piano alongside the rest of trio. He gave a lively 7/4 reworking of ‘It Could Happen to You’ and an elegant, Keith Jarrett-tinged account of ‘Come Sunday’. What a demonstration of the “bench-strength” of pianists in London.
Turville eventually arrived, although almost literally at the eleventh hour, so that his truncated set inevitably had the feeling of an encore and never quite caught fire. Nevertheless, it offered a tantalising glimpse at his considerable talents as a pianist very much in the John Taylor mould, and demonstrated his strengths as a composer (on ‘Hand Maid’) and arranger (on the trio’s subtle rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Scatterbrain’).
And here’s the good news from that parallel Eurovision universe: with performances like these on display, the UK never again comes last in the voting.