Photo Credit: Christine Ongsiek
Dave O’Higgins Quartet
(Hidden Rooms, Jesus Lane Cambridge. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
So the show is on the road. This was one of the very first shows of Dave O’Higgins‘ thirty-four date tour, and it showed what a commanding player he is. His saxophone sound is strong and focused, his technical mastery is fearsome, he deploys what seems an effortless evenness of sound right through the instrument’s range, and his improvising language is fluent and understandable.
O’Higgins set the context by talking about how heroes, predecessors have left their mark on him. So Guess I’ll hang my tears out to dry was an overt homage to Dexter Gordon, One For Big G specifically remembers George Coleman, and Nothing to Lose definitely sounded in the shadow of Eddie Lockjaw Davis. In the interview he did with Dan Paton before the tour, O’Higgins talked about the dichotomy between what audiences clearly like – the familiar – and what grabs media attention – the new. When he does what he does so well, and it clearly draws appreciative audiences such as the one last night, there seems not much to quibble about.
The closing sequence, a beautifully-shaped Monk Round Midnight followed by a controlled but very fleet Broadway was my highlight. O’Higgins has completely flawless intonation on soprano sax, as he showed in the ballad. Geoff Gascoyne playing sparsely but completely supportively as the others played their solos, and giving the higher end of the compass of the bass (and some brand new Pirastro strings from Hessen) a proper work-out. The other two players were different from those on the album, but that fact only serves as a reminder of how much bench-strength there is in British jazz. In place of Sebastiaan de Krom. drummer Rod Youngs had an instinctive understanding of the right feel for each section of each number, and produced some subtle and delicate brushwork in Round Midnight. And pianist Rob Barron (replacing Graham Harvey who was on Stacey Kent duty) also negotiated the twists and turns of the arrangements, not least a brief and complete rabbit-out-of-a-hat switch to rumba feel at the end of the ballad.
O’ Higgins plays approachable mainstream jazz, and the audience at the Hidden Rooms, with a wide age-range, was clearly enjoying every moment of it.