Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Steve Swallow Quintet + The Impossible Gentlemen - London Jazz Festival 2011

Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. Sunday 13th November 2011.

So it is, that the Impossible Gentlemen take to the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage with one change to the album line-up: Pat Metheny’s double bass player, Steve Rodby in place of the usual Steve Swallow. Walker’s vulnerably bright and almost brittle sounding solo guitar opened the always-warming ‘Clockmaker’. The long round resonance of Rodby’s bass initially unsettled an ear used Swallow’s distinctive approach, but this was soon adapted to, Rodby visibly relishing Swallow’s seat. For me, pianist Gwilym Simcock is best heard on the beautiful solo piano introduction to Walker’s touching ‘When You Hold Her’. The guitar didn’t quite tip over into the blissful feedback sustain we hear on the album version of this track, but Walker still managed to deliver enough heart-wrench to make drummer Adam Nussbaum seem not far from tears. As usual, the groove section of ‘You Won’t Be Around to See It’ made for some tasty funky stuff from both Simcock and Walker, with Nussbaum’s groove-meistering being especially sweet tonight.

It was a brave move scheduling the incendiary paced ‘Laugh Lines’ to be the last song of the last date of the band’s current tour, and a smidgeon of raggedness was audible. However, it gave Rodby a good opportunity to prove his mettle, holding things firm in the lower registers. Tonight’s concert was another generous and high-spirited performance from the gents, and one that clearly went down well with the South Bank crowd.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best scheduling decision to have the Steve Swallow Quintet following what was likely to be a typically high-energy performance from the Impossible Gentlemen. In many ways, it was a little hard to know what to make of this set of new material from Swallow, written with Carla Bley on the Hammond B3 in mind. There’s no doubt the ethereal Bley looked amazing on the throne of the beautiful vintage B3, but the result was a little disappointing. Much of the music consisted of quite complex long through-composed pieces that would probably need a few listenings to get to grips with, and I suspect would have worked better before, rather than after the Impossible Gentlemen’s set. I am partial to the sort of Hammond organ atmospherics we know Bley does so well, such as on the classic ‘Elevator Over The Hill’, but the organ just didn’t seem to work that well tonight, perhaps as it doesn’t sit so well with Swallow’s material.

Guitarist Steve Cardenas, drummer Jorge Rossy and saxophonist Chris Cheek fulfilled there’s roles in perhaps the way Swallow was thinking, but none managed to add much in the way of energy or excitement. Some of the writing did sound promising, so I would want to reserve judgement for another hearing, but I can’t deny that tonight’s set from this composer and player we admire so much, was disappointing.

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