Friday 25 November 2011

Live: Bill Frisell and Louis Stewart

Two very contrasting gigs this week. Last Sunday Bill Frisell mixed Americana with Philip Glass style minimalism with his 858 Quartet. I saw this line-up at the Village Vanguard where we were in the thick of the music in the small wedge-shaped venue. At the Queen Elizabeth Hall we sat high up with a very objective perspective on the music. Bill created blues, folk, bluegrass-style themes on his Fender Stratocaster accompanied by the minimalists interventions form Jenny Scheinmann (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and the very dynamic cello of Hank Roberts. The music moved quite slowly. It was like being mesmerised by a gradually changing kaleidoscope of sound. Pieces built up, grew in intensity and then died down again. No fast tempos, nothing really slow. There was compositional depth and it was musically very satisfying.

Support was from Scottish-based NeWt with its unusual line-up of drums, guitar and trombone. The trombone used effects to create some very deep bass frequencies and there was some rock-inspired guitar riffing. The unique combination of sounds made me sit up and listen. Like other contemporary British bands (Phronesis, Kit Downes, Portico) you couldn't easily hear the joins between the composed and improvised sections. Is this something that distinguishes modern European jazz? EST used this type of approach but Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Jonathan Kreisberg seem to stick to the more traditional theme, improv, theme. The standard of musicianship and inventiveness was high and I'd like to hear them again.

On Wednesday night I heard Irish jazz guitar legend Louis Stewart at The Jazz Store. It's almost 20 years since I last saw him - Brighton Jazz Club at The Concorde. He kicked off with Alone Together and then went into Speak Low. He spun lovely, long flowing lines from his 1950s Gibson ES 175 (with a single P90 PUP). His pitch range seems very similar to the male voice and his lines seemed very in singable. They also had a spontaneous quality to them, nothing too arched or contrived. Spike Wells and Dan Shepherd played very tastefully on drums and bass. Roy Hilton's sold were very inventive and showed is mastery of bebop. The tunes were all standards (I didn't see any music all evening). In the second half they were joined by trumpeter Gary Kavanagh and singer Sarah Oschlag and Louis was able to show off some very tasteful comping.

I was really inspired by Louis' relaxed approach. Nothing seems forced or showy. Certainly something to aspire to. I'm looking forward to his gig at Wickwoods Country Club on Sunday.

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