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Convergence Quartet, The Cube, April 25

April 26, 2009

People (me included) often say that improvisation and composition are the two poles which jazz has to use for navigation. More of one means less of the other. Less sensibly, there is sometimes a tendency to claim that “free” improvisation, once discovered as an extension of the vocabulary, stays somehow superior to old devices like melody and rhythm.

Actually, who cares about these distinctions? Not these guys. They are all completely brilliant musicians. And they are young enough to have evaded all these tedious traps. Their pieces are carefully composed and arranged, but have composed bits which sound like improv, and bursts of actual improv when it suits. On the other hand, if they feel like a melody (and piano player Alexander Hawkins calls their pieces “tunes”) they will play one, beautifully. And Harris Eisenstadt on percussion and Dominic Lash on bass do time when they feel it – grooves, even – but most of the time (ahem) do so much more.

Apart from creating that desirable feeling that you have no idea quite what to expect next – a Tony Oxley cover? Why not? A bit of Sun Ra? Bring it on – this is all superb to listen to, and fascinating throughout. The quartet are rounded off by Taylor Ho Bynum, who also digs deep into a traditional repertoire of brass smears, honks and growls when he needs them while playing clean and clear when he is so moved. Can’t quite think how to sum up the whole effect – er, EST meets Lester Bowie, maybe? Anyhow, technique in the service of real creativity there. I had only heard him on the radio before, and was underwhelmed, or possibly inattentive, but this evening’s effort will certainly spur efforts to hear much more of his work.

All this on the first night of a tour which played to an, er, modest audience at the Cube. Hope they draw more of a crowd in Reading, London, and Cheltenham, as detailed here. I have other plans for Cheltenham (Dave Douglas and Donny McCaslin top of the list), but the gig there will be recorded for Jazz on 3. Meanwhile, Bristolians who stayed away missed a treat. This was the most completely successful performance musically I’ve heard in half a dozen visits to this excellent venue.

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