Live reviews

REVIEW: Chris Bowden at Union Chapel

The band at Union Chapel
iPhone snap by James McGowan

Chris Bowden
(Union Chapel, London. 22 January 2019.Review by James McGowan)

Union Chapel swelled with anticipation ahead of Chris Bowden’s long-awaited performance of his 1992 album Time Capsule. There was a genuine affection and depth of feeling among the crowd for a man revered by fans of jazz and dance music alike.

Bowden was steeped in jazz from a young age. He studied classical saxophone, before spending several years touring and recording with acid-jazz group K-Collective. The Birmingham-born musician hit the wider consciousness with his hugely acclaimed debut Time Capsule which was released on UK Soul Jazz Records in 1992. Further releases include Slightly Askew in 2002 and Unlikely Being last year which was covered on the pages of LondonJazz News (INTERVIEW). He has also been a much sought-after arranger and collaborator with a range of acid-jazz and dance artists including the jazz-rock hip-hop outfit the Herbaliser.

The stirringly swinging Ridiculous Itinerary opened the first set with trumpeter Jay Phelps deftly weaving among the leader’s soulful alto lines while keyboardist Jim Watson unfurled floating liquid chords. A joyous take on Herbie Hancock’s One Finger Snap was propelled by Young Jazz Musician of the Year Xhosa Cole’s muscular tenor saxophone.

Set two was all Time Capsule. Mothers and Daughters now Mothers surged with pulsating swagger, fuelled by Chris Dodd’s hypnotic bass – such a key part of the Bowden sound – and Neil Bullock’s taut minimalism on drums. Forbidden Fruit recalled the intricate world-funk of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the group’s string section zig-zagging hither and thither.

Bowden stalked the stage in a contented trance, gently whispering to fellow musicians. A hymnal Epsilon oozed spiritual energy, its dreamlike melody unfolding in nuanced twists and turns with soulful, crisp alto lines and a soaring flute duel between Cole and multi-instrumentalist Pelham Wood.

Like the album, the set was a sequence of sculpted fragments and moods, peppered with textures from long-term collaborator Simon Richmond on electronics. Sane echoed Gary Bartz with Watson’s fearsomely percussive chords stirring up a Latin vamp over frenzied rhythmic interplay between Dodd and Bullock. A cameo for Stuart Baker was a sign of how much his contribution has meant through the years before a poignant final coda gave way to a Coltrane-ish whirlwind finale.

Bowden explained that the album Time Capsule was intended to reflect a unique moment in time. I’m sure that in reopening the capsule 27 years on, one of British jazz’s most uncompromising musicians will have found that the freshness and vigour of the music remain undimmed, its enduring breadth of vision and inspiration resonating more deeply than ever.

Categories: Live reviews

1 reply »

  1. Thanks for the great review. I was there too and loved it! One small correction. The band was ‘The K-Creative’ (which I was also in!) not K Collective (another band from the time featuring members of the Brand New Heavies). Many thanks, Ski

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