PREVIEW: Moonlight Saving Time. (Pizza Express Dean St., Mon. 17th Nov, EFG LJF)

Moonlight Saving Time

Alison Bentley writes about the Bristol-based band Moonlight Saving Time, who will be performing in the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival – Monday 17th November  at Pzza Expres  Jazz Club in Dean Street:

What brings a band together? Singer Emily Wright wasn’t so much worried about what was going to be played in Moonlight Saving Time as who was going to play it. She chose musicians she wanted to work with, associated with the Bristol area, and the result is an authentic recipe: a band that sounds like a band, not just backing for soloists. You’re conscious of the original flavour of the whole before listening out for the individual ingredients.

Moonlight Saving Time is the title of a Blossom Dearie song, and Wright sometimes has a touch of Dearie’s understated breathiness. The West Country influence is strong. Wright grew up listening to the local trip-hop scene, and she can sometimes sound quite like (Cocteau Twins’) Elizabeth Fraser singing with Massive Attack. Wright and drummer Mark Whitlam also play with Jake McMurchie of Get the Blessing, which developed out of arch trip-hop Bristol band Portishead- you get the picture. Wright studied jazz with Keith and Julie Tippett(s) and has a clear, direct, unaffected vocal tone like the latter and an incisive, percussive sense of rhythm. The band is fronted by the voice, often used wordlessly like an instrument, along with the excellent trumpeter Nick Malcolm. Malcolm can play forthright swing like Freddie Hubbard or freely- full of evocative sounds like Evan Parker.

One of the he most satisfying things is the detail in the arrangements. In their version of the Isley Brothers’ Foorsteps in the Dark, drummer Mark Whitlam does that Mark Guiliana thing of bringing drum ‘n’ bass grooves into the jazz sound. The effect recalls Robert Glasper’s arrangements for Gretchen Parlato, but gentler. You suddenly notice what’s stitching it all together- written piano trills, bass riffs that never draw attention to themselves. Bassist Will Harris is particularly good at stating powerful grooves unobtrusively. There are some Chick Corea tunes in the setlists and there’s a clear link with Flora Purim’s version of Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly. The band’s arrangement is peppered with sparse trumpet lines and breathless moments where the grooves drop right down for the solos before building again. There are unusual pieces: Wright has written words to Douala by guitarist David Gilmore, with an Afro-Latin feel. They have the occasional standard in their repertoire- Skylark, or You Must Believe in Spring, for example- always thoughtfully revamped.

The band won the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund 2013 Award for Emerging Excellence. You can hear they’re just getting better and better as they develop their repertoire and play together even more intuitively.

Pianist John Turville joins them for this, the last gig of their autumn tour, and the launch of their new single, I’m Not Alone. Their last Pizza Express gig sold out, so don’t leave it too late.


Categories: miscellaneous

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