(Barbican Hall, November 14th 2010, photo credit:Gerry Walden)
There is only one place for the jazz fan to be at 11.15 tonight. And that’s by a radio listening to the Robert Glasper Trio ‘s London Jazz Festival performance from last night’s Barbican concert on Jazz on 3. Other people’s London Jazz Festival experience might be all about the amassing of Bridget Jones Diary alcohol units and bragging rights in heroic quantities, lock-ins and 5am finishes. The rest of us have to work with our limitations.
It was a very special set indeed. The high point came with the arrival onstage of Glasper’s regular drummer Chris “Daddy” Dave, a fireball of energy, with Terence Blanchard for the final number of the set, Glasper’s composition Canvas. Glasper had been working on it with the East London Creative Jazz Orchestra, and they were all present in the audience, and were clearly appreciative.
But if that tune stayed uppermost in the mind afterwards, it shouldn’t in any way devalue what had gone before. For the main part of the set the drum chair had been occupied by Mark Colenburg. Colenburg is a very different drummer from Chris Dave. Colenburg is more cerebral, more calculating, but a remarkable player.
Colenburg’s influence on the constantly watchful and attentive Glasper was to take him off in very different and fascinating directions. Glasper is known for incorporating hip hop and gospel. But on the evidence of last night, they are just a small part of the stylistic palette which he can summon up. He has an internalized memory and an imagination into which he can dig very deep and find resources from surprising places – I thought I heard takes on the cult piano minimalists and texturalists Conlon Nancarrow and Terry Riley. Then there was a very fine moment when the band pulled the audience’s ears in, and settled into a compelling, assured, anthemic groove – in what sounded like 11/8 time. At another moment the audience were quick to pick up that the trio had found its way cleverly into Nirvana’s Teen Spirit. But in this context, with this drummer it was hushed, seen through the prism of Keith Jarrett. This was an intensely lyical take on the tune which was so quiet, I could hear the tick of my neighbour’s watch.
A special word too about Derrick Hodge. Hodge thinks and hears low. His sound is big, his presence imposing yet genial. He had one wonderful feature using the open E string as a pedal note.Think Ron Carter, only with more of a sense of mischief.
You had to feel sorry for the piano-bass-drums combination from the Terence Blanchard Quintet which came on to start the second set. They had an impossible act to follow. But blanchard’s group’s set also grew impressively. The trumpeter’s first skirmish was with drummer Kendrick Scott. He stared him out, each threw out challenges at the other and was getting them returned with an extra dose of controlled anger, like sparring boxers exchanging jabs. Scott was the third fine drummer on a great evening of sympathetic, collaborative and inspiring jazz drumming..
As an Art Blakey alumnus, Blanchard learnt the craft of the bandleader early on. With his own group he has a similar concept to Blakey, giving youg lions a context to work their socks off, and to develop. There was one very new player, the ex-Julliard bassist Ben Williams. Blanchard pointed this out he was still relying on the written music. The inference was clear: Blanchard has the clear expectation that, like the others, he should quickly rise to the challenge of getting to know every single tricky contour of Blanchard’s compositions. The other band members were both impressive – tenor player Brice Winston and young Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan.
Blanchard’s clearly intense work with his band has another purpose too. He responds, deeply, sincerely to developments in society,and acts as the public conscience. He uses recorded words written and spoken by Cornel West. The quintet wraps its work around the compelling speech-rhythms and ideas. Blogger Katy Austin was impressed in the summer by Blanchard’s depth and sincerity in “Choices” , a response to Katrina. Blanchard as a musician and as a citizen pursues serious goals, and has a healthy disregard for tabloid headlines and throwaway culture. Would there were more artists with the courage to speak their minds, to act as a conscience.
A very fine gig indeed.
Jazz Line-Up wil be boadcasting Terence Blanchard’s performance in early December.