Jon Lloyd Quintet
(Spin Jazz Club, Oxford, 20th Sept. 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)
Down an ancient Oxford alleyway, lock the bike, up the winding stairs above the old pub, to find music that transports you to another world.
Saxophonist Jon Lloyd started out playing free jazz, but his own musical journey has led him to write more structured music as a basis for improvisation. In this gig the feeling wasn’t of movement but stillness. The Spin audience concentrated totally, creating a space for the band to pour their music into.
Lloyd names John Surman as a major influence, and Surman’s folk-edged, unhurried sound was there in the opening minor ballad, Float. Lloyd has a soft, pure tone on soprano, though at times the notes were split, rasping- not always sweet, but still alluring- Anthony Braxton is also an influence. In Synapse, a Kenny Wheeler-like tune, the sax almost recalled Paul Dunmall on Northumbrian pipes. Lloyd played pentatonic phrases at high speed with amazing fluency, the notes fading like their own echo. Closer was a high point- or perhaps a still point at the centre of the gig- long, slow sax tones over subliminal harmonics bowed on bass, and shifting percussion, like being lulled in a boat on water.
In the Debussyesque Intervallic, John Law played keyboard as if elements that were once cerebral had become pure feeling. His honeyed Fender Rhodes sounds lured the audience into his wonderfully destabilising harmonic world. The band played every dissonant harmony known to mankind, and probably a few previously undiscovered by musical explorers. (Jon joked: ‘We discovered we’ve all got the same chords to this tune- so it’s going to be rubbish!’)
Yaga, based on an Indian scale, began with Lloyd and Law playing a seemingly random unison melody, invoking John Cage- but when the piano chords came in, they made perfect harmonic sense. Rob Palmer played some funky single string rhythms before a sensitive, beautifully-phrased solo, with hints of Abercrombie and Metheny. Lloyd played bass clarinet in Bear Hug, recalling John Surman’s bubbling underwater soundtrack to the film Respiro. Law’s piano was gospelly, over an 11/4 groove with the spirit of 70s jazz rock. (Miles’ Bitches Brew or UK band If.)
For most of the gig, Asaf Sirkis‘ restrained energy held things together but his huge textured sound was unleashed in Synapse– tribal toms, cascading cymbals. Tom Farmer‘s superbly rhythmic bass pulse underpinned the wild freedom of the improvising, and his soloing was thoughtful, atonal yet bluesy. Krapp’s Last Tape was Lloyd’s serene yet spiky tribute to Beckett’s play about ageing. (Jon: ‘Jazz audiences aren’t 25 any more.’) The Spin audience (aged 18-80) loved it.
The band’s mysterious mix of space and energy; modal and free jazz; modern classical music, and sheer skill created something very special and bewitching.
The Spin won the 2012 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Live Venue. They’ve a great programme coming up this autumn, and Oxford’s practically West London these days…..