REVIEW: Étienne Mbappé & The Prophets at the 606 Club (2015 EFG LJF)

Étienne Mbappé.
Photo credit Markus Kaemmerer –  from artist website

Étienne Mbappé & The Prophets
(606 Club, 19th November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Rob Mallows)

In a week when everyone’s attention has been on the terrible events in his home city of Paris, French-Cameroonian bassist Étienne Mbappé and his band reminded a packed crowd at the 606 Club in Chelsea of the positive healing power of great music.

The 606 Club was at its sardines-in-a-can packed-out best for the visit of Mbappé , backed by a seven-piece band he’d put together this year. The band demonstrated near flawless group playing which the audience lapped up, based on the whoops of appreciation after each number. Worthy of particular mention was drummer Nicolas Vicaro who pushed the group along with his inventive and crockery-jangling playing of such power it was as if he was inspired by playing across from the Lotts Road Power Station. He provided Mbappé with an inventive rhythmic palate on which to demonstrate his virtuosic playing.

Mbappé ’s latest musical output is a fun mix of jazz, african, funk and rock sensibilities with, on numerous occasions, forays into the sounds and rhythms of the souks of the Maghreb. He and the band hit the ground running with three complex, klezmer-fast tracks before stopping to introduce themselves. Groove is a core component of Mbappé ’s playing and the set was overflowing with it. He was content at times to just sit in the pocket and let his brass duo of Arno de Casanove (tr.) and Hervé Gourdikian (sax) pump out some compelling melodies in unison, recalling Michael and Randy Brecker in their Brecker Brothers days.

Mbappé and his band had arrived at the venue straight from Paris and, understandably, he addressed the terrible issues that occurred in Paris the Friday before. At times struggling with both his English and his emotions, he dedicated the ballad How Near, How Far to “all his friends in Paris”. The track – inspired he said by the experiences of migrants everywhere – was appropriately powerful and poignant, expressing in music what words cannot do. There was a lot of love in the room for this track and for the band. Mbappé also remarked that it was not easy, given recent events, to be fronting a band named The Prophets, but he was clearly very proud to be playing with these musicians.

Many of the tracks were master classes in tight, high-intensity group playing, with frequent ninety-degree turns of rhythm, volume and mood that kept feet tapping and audience members uncertain as to when to applaud. Particularly enjoyable was the convoluted and frenetic ending to the fifth (unnamed) track which was as spectacular a musical finish as the most complicated of dismounts from the gymnast’s beam.

Mbappé ‘s silk-gloved hands [(c) all reviews] moved effortlessly and in a blur across his five strings, so much so that on a couple of his solos it felt at times like he’d purchased a job lot of sixteenth and thirty-second notes with an expiry date of that evening. With the bass’s low-end turned up a little too high for such a small, low-ceilinged venue, the aluminium air-conditioning pipes were buzzing intensely. That was, however, a minor irritant – the sound produced by the band was as juicy and well-cooked as the steak enjoyed by the punter behind me.

This was an ‘up’ gig – emotional, clearly, but all about the uplifting power of great music to transport players and audience away from their thoughts through a reverie of hard pulsing brass chops, fizzing drums and shout-it-to-the-rafters groove. It bought out a big crowd – the bar was packed with punters straining for a glimpse around the venue’s pillars – with a good number of London’s west African community out in support. Gary Husband – a bandmate of Mbappé ’s in a previous incarnation of John McLaughlin’s Fourth Dimension – was also there to lend his support for his friend’s first solo gig in London.

A very positive evening showcasing what the London Jazz Festival is all about, ending a difficult seven days on a defiantly up beat.

Categories: miscellaneous

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