|Mo Foster (L) and Ray Russell (R)|
Ray Russell / Mo Foster Project
(606 Club, 1st August 2016. Review by Brian Blain )
Quite an occasion last week when Ray Russell and Mo Foster, two giants of the British recording, TV and rock scene-from Jeff Beck, Sting and Freddy Mercury to Andy Williams – appeared at the 606 with Chris Biscoe (saxophones),Geoff Castle (keys),and Nic France (drums), to play the kind of music that inspired them in the first place.
For all their session work eminence, it may easily be forgotten that guitarist Russell and electric bassist Foster were two of the foundation stones of Gil Evans’s British orchestra and, before that, Russell was one of the first generation of musicians determined to shake up the predictable certainties of UK ‘modern jazz’ with his classic album Turn Circle for CBS.
Alerted by the ubiquitous word ‘project’ instead of Band it was perhaps inevitable that the first couple of tunes were a tad tentative while ‘acoustic’ electric balances were sorted and Chris Biscoe, away from the stark reality of working with just Mike and Kate Westbrook was beginning to find his feet in the electronic surround of….keyboards and guitars before things began to settle nicely. Ray is the mercurial one, all note-bending and sonic variety, yet capable of intense melodic invention, while Mo, like some kindly bear seems to just sit, holding it all together with lovely bass figures derived from the MoTown and James Brown cannon.
But any preconceived notions of ‘just a funk jam’ were dispelled with a wonderful repertoire that included originals , Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance, Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, one of the great jazz ballads of the 20th Century, Jaco’s Three Views of a Secret, on which Biscoe really produced a passionate line, and even the MJQ’s Django.
Programming was clever too in contrasting a piece of Russell’s, Suddenly They Are Gone, which opened with a long, long solo guitar cadenzaa, almost classical in its intensityto be joined discreetly by Castle’s synth carpets, without any rhythm section at all: masterly. On the other hand maybe they were a little too inhibited about ‘the groove thang’ because after Django , an original, Shards of Providence just oozed that laid back Crusaders feel and you felt that the room was ready to party after some really intense music. Besides, it was so nice to hear Nic France, a really tasty player, locking in with Mo and the whole thing just cooking nicely.
There is so much talent in this crew and what they put on the table is so unusual in today’s musical climate it would be marvellous if they could progress beyond just a ‘Project’