Live review

Gary Crosby’s Groundation from the Church of Sound (2020 EFG LJF)

Gary Crosby’s Groundation
(Streamed from Church of Sound for EFG London Jazz Festival, 20 November 2020. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

L-R: Hamish Nockles Moore, Gary Crosby, Moses Boyd. Screenshot.

Gary Crosby brought his band comprised of alumni from Tomorrow’s Warriors to the London Jazz Festival, playing one set of Charlie Parker tunes in commemoration of his centenary and another set of originals.

The set of Parker numbers encompassed the fast, like Segment, the opener, through to a beautiful slow ballad. Nathaniel Facey took the alto parts with aplomb, equally at ease whatever the speed. His dexterity on the faster numbers was astonishing. Moses Boyd proved he’s as good a bebop drummer as he is with iconoclastic free jazz and jazz-funk, pushing the faster pieces along driving, swinging energy. Shirley Tetteh and Hamish Moore on guitar and bass respectively were exemplary, Tetteh in particularly playing some lovely solos. But as with any concert featuring Parker’s music, though, the spotlight was on the alto, and Facey was excellent.

With its focus on speed and technique, while exciting, bebop can sometimes seem lacking in emotion. The second set was anything but. With Crosby taking over from Moore on bass, they played a series of tunes by Crosby, Tetteh and Facey that allowed the musicians to really stretch out. Tetteh’s playing followed some beautiful melodic lines, whilst Facey combined technical accomplishment with a lovely lyrical sensibility. Boyd continued to show why he’s one of the best drummers playing in Britain at the moment.

Crosby movingly dedicated Dearest to the late John Cumming, who he described as his mentor, and who was in part responsible for making the London Jazz Festival the force it is. Dearest is a haunting ballad, with lots of space for the musicians to explore. Facey’s solo was wistful and moving; Tetteh’s, gentle and affecting.

The tour de force though was the finale, a long, through-composed piece by Facey dedicated to Ornette Coleman, Ode To O.C., on which Moore returned to join Crosby on bass. Peppered with quotations from Coleman’s work, the opening section was a powerful statement feauring Facey’s alto, before moving into a much faster swinging passage, allowing Tetteh to shine as she built a long, complex solo, the basses powering along beneath. The piece built and built, with another powerful solo from Facey, before an extended coda brought it to a close. Ode to O.C. is near enough a suite, but whilst long at over twenty minutes, it provided some of the most inspirational music I’d heard in a while.

Almost as an afterthought, they played an encore. Maybe it’s the time we’re going through, maybe it was just closing such an impressive performance, or perhaps musicians such as these hit the mark every time, but their spiritual, bluesy take on Amazing Grace was enough a to bring tears to one’s eyes, and a suitable close to the evening.

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