Live review

Jorge Rossy Vibes Quintet at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Jorge Rossy Vibes Quintet
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 15 January 2020. Second night of two. Review by Sam Norris)

The return of Jorge Rossy’s ‘Beyond Sunday’ quintet to Pizza Express Dean Street last week was met with an enthusiastic response from a packed-out audience. The Barcelona native, who is perhaps best known for his drumming in Brad Mehldau’s seminal trio, has been focussing on vibraphone and piano in recent years, and it was with the former that he graced us on this occasion. Combining the multi-instrumentalist’s frequent collaborators, tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Doug Weiss, with legendary drummer Billy Hart and young Catalonian guitarist Jaume Llombart, the band worked through two sets of originals which showcased Rossy’s nocturnal, subdued approach to music-making.

Jorgy Rossy Vibes Quintet. Publicity photo

The vibe of this band was clear from the outset. Rossy’s compositions demonstrated a good grounding in the American tradition of jazz composing – the vibist cited the works of Clare Fischer, Ray Noble and Kurt Weill as influences – but were clearly written with this line-up in mind. Their complex, intervallic melodies and ear-bending arpeggios were familiar territory for Turner in particular, his solos often sounding like a continuation of the head, the relaxed coolness of his articulation (just ever so slightly behind the beat) sitting beautifully over the simmering rhythm section of Hart, Llombart and Weiss. The amusingly titled Post-Catholic Waltz saw some of Turner’s best playing, his well-paced solo developing from simple, unhurried minims to chromatically weaving lines mountaineering to the icy peak of his register. Llombart’s ballsy, Monk-ish tendencies were also evident, especially during his solo on Rossy’s groover, Route 666. His urgent bebop language contrasted well with Turner’s cryptic yet freewheeling style throughout the concert.

Rossy is clearly an accomplished vibes player, and took several very hip solos; his tasteful melodicism and considered dynamics were best captured during his blow over Bubbles (no pun intended), a 5/4 tribute to Peter Bernstein. His comping was equally reserved, scarcely venturing beyond diads; if anything, one felt he could have taken a more active role. Weiss provided a solid quarter-note all night, as well as a nice arco bass solo on Rossy’s arrangement of a melody from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. He also anchored the rhythm section well on the odd-metre numbers, although his unwillingness to stray from the obvious claves underpinning them became slightly repetitious. Hart was masterful as ever, his tongue-in-cheek interjections and at times explosive snare comping transcending the traditional role as timekeeper in a way that has defined his entire career. His chemistry with Turner, with whom he has recorded on numerous occasions, was a joy to see, as were his pyrotechnic, Elvin-esque solos, such as on Rossy’s Ventana.

In all, this was an enjoyable night of music from an international cast of heavyweights. Rossy the composer has crafted a coherent set of originals, and chosen a band which can perform them to his liking – that is, with a restrained, gently unfolding spirit that calls to mind 1950s Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh – while still retaining space for individual artistic expression. There were times when it felt like the music needed a little more energy, a release from the subtlety, and the rhythm section sometimes provided this. However, there were a few too many times when they didn’t, and this occasionally prevented the group from reaching the dizzying heights of ensemble interplay they are undoubtedly capable of. That said, the virtuosity of Rossy and his bandmates, especially Turner and Hart, was on full display, and Rossy’s warmth and youthful energy both on and off the stage made the concert a very pleasurable way to spend a Wednesday evening.

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