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Mark Lockheart Quartet at Empire Bar Hackney

REVIEW: Mark Lockheart Quartet (Empire Bar Hackney. 11 December 2019. Review by AJ Dehany) Tenor titan Mark Lockheart’s new group is a bit of a beast: four heavyweight players presenting new compositions with an assertive group confidence. The Empire Bar was the first time they’d played this music in London, having debuted in drummer Dave Smith’s home-town, Frome. The compositions are as you might expect from Lockheart: well-crafted classic-sounding modern jazz tunes with A and B themes (and A1 and C themes!) and plenty of scope for interpretation, improvisation, and tonal and rhythmical pacing and variation. The group were reading pretty intently but as they familiarise themselves the tunes should ripen nicely.  

Mark Lockheart Quartet. Phone snap by AJ Dehany

The proggy drive of Fluorescences and the full-blown skronk of Gangster Rat (dedicated to Banksy) are set alongside deep cuts like Distant Bells, a great chance to hear Lockheart’s rich tone on the tenor sax as it cuts through keyboard wizard Elliot Galvin’s Scott Walker-esque clusters of high pedal drones. On Dreamers, Galvin’s ribald Hammond sound was fierce, ferocious and confrontational. Jimmy Smith it is not. In this group Galvin also plays texturally fairly extensively, so his solo on Beats of my Heart commanded special attention. The 28-year old has a ferocious intelligence in soloing that sets him apart. His contribution to the new direction of Led Bib adds a sound-based experimental edge to that band, and to this one too. Galvin’s later solo was even more exciting, rattling through in double time against the tempo with a double spread of the fingers up and down the octaves. Jagdish (“a nice modest name” meaning King of the world) is inspired by a trip to India, and rich in exotic scales and chords., an enchanting instant favourite. An atmospheric echoey sax intro sets the scene for a sinuous subcontinental trail with deep shades of mystery, and a good opportunity for Galvin’s increasingly trademark sonic intrigues as the group all dug in for a round of abstraction. Then, “this is called Weird Weather. I don’t know why. It’s not that weird. Imagine the weirdest weather possible.” It starts with high abstract soprano-like squeaks, then through dense groove the group squeezes every raindrop of oddity from initially minimal material, unpacking thorny complexities. An intro with Tom Herbert’s chromatic doublestop chords on the hollow body electric bass, doubled by creepy organ, unfolded like slow and unnerving halloween music. Ambulance sirens careened up and down Mare Street metres away outside, soloing serendipitously as a fifth voice, leading the band into a deliriously kooky breakdown with fluting synth tones. Mingle Jingle, dedicated to Lockheart’s wife (again, “it’s a bit weird”) is another strong Lockheart theme with his characteristic command of memorable melodic thematic writing—toward the end segueing for fun into a bit of Jingle Bells and some concluding group noise. The final edition of this Wednesday evening series at the Empire Bar curated by George Crowley will be 2019 Parliamentary Jazz award winner Jospehine Davies’s Satori trio. They’re recording a new album in January, so this could be a fine opportunity to preview new material. And the Lockheart Quartet will be at the Crypt in Camberwell on 24 January, with other dates to be announced. AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

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