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Aruan Ortiz and Michael Janisch quintet, St George’s. Nov 8

November 9, 2012
English: Saxophonist Greg Osby

English: Saxophonist Greg Osby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can see plenty of good jazz around Bristol in the course of a year, and the local players who keep it going here are capable of great things. But every now and again a band comes through town who take things to the next level. This latest project of US expatriate bassist Michael Janisch did just that.

The front line of alto giant Greg Osby and Spanish trumpeter Raynald Colom bristles with talent and invention, and the rhythm section has much of that exhilarating freedom within constraint patented by the mid-1960s Miles Davis quintet. Drummer Rudy Royston’s understanding with pianist Aruan Ortiz has a lot to do with this – their mutual delight is obvious, and Royston’s constantly inventive, fluidly apposite work at the kit  is a wonder to behold.

They played completely acoustically at St George’s, which worked better than it sometimes does – some of the piano detail got lost now and again, but this is a drummer who knows how to play unamplified without battering his colleagues into submission so mostly all was fine. And the sound of bass, alto and trumpet just playing the room was superb.

Their gig at the Pizza Express last year at the London Jazz Festival has just yielded a CD which offers an unusually good   live recording of musicians on a high. This set, which followed the CD selection closely, seemed every bit as good. The opener, Precisely Now, was a tribute to Dave Holland from one of the few bass players who compares with him. Jitterbug Waltz began with solo alto from the undemonstratively virtuosic Osby, who gradually moved closer to the theme, then gave way to a long piano excursion. Another standard – Just One of Those Things, I think – received similarly oblique treatment, as did Monk’s Ask Me Now. There, Ortiz took a long, contemplative solo, which seemed to have plenty of space even when he gradually increased the note rate, and was pleasingly angular throughout.

Each piece lasted 15 minutes or so, so plenty of room for everyone. The real discovery of the evening was Colom, who I hadn’t come across before. A superbly confident player, with that Moorish tinge which Miles appropriated, and able to build spine tingling solos from simple figures and long notes, light on effects, long on feeling. He did it again on the long closing number, Ortiz’ The Maestro, and the healthy audience filed out happy and many of them, I suspect, still processing a great evening’s creative music. There are a few more dates in the UK, so catch them if you can.

P.S. see also Mike Collins great review from a few rows further back…

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