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Peter King Quartet, Future Inns Jazz Club, May 16

May 19, 2010

Pete King’s second visit to Cabot Circus in a bit over six months, and well worth going to hear him again. This was the mixture pretty much as before – even down to the Coltrane-inflected medley in the second set, followed by a solo assault (seems the right word) on Lush Life. I think I’ve heard that four times now, so can’t help wondering if it is time to move on to another tune for that particular exercise? Otherwise, though, all quite splendid.

As personnel remain as before – this is surely one of the best bands King has ever had, and the stability really helps – and set lists are dull, I am left pondering the appeal of this music. The general approach is uncompromising in its way, the see-sawing torrent of notes of hard core be-bop. It is easy to imagine someone who is not tuned in hearing it as a relentless, even monotonous exercise, technical facility breeding self-indulgence. Even if you are in the habit of lending an ear to this stuff, it is still nervy, frenetic, even neurotic music – all quickfire phrasing and, even with a lovely, anchoring bass like Geoff Gascoyne’s, chopped up rhythm which sounds as if it is trying to overwhelm the beat rather than ornament it. There is tension and release going on but it can move on so fast it sounds all tension and no release.

But, when the simple tunes but complex harmonies which mark the idiom are in the hands of master players, the effect is a kind of unforced exuberance which sweeps all doubts aside. There was lots of that tonght from King and, especially, from Steve Melling’s piano (overamplified tonight, which is not the usual thing at this venue – turn the volume down Ian!). It gives you a strong idea of the force this music must have had when it was first played. The hell-for-leather, take no prisoners speed of proposal and response between the players can still take the breath away.

The exuberance of Martin Drew’s inevitable drum feature was more forced, hence less engaging. One who plays so much drums throughout all the tunes, and lays down such a springy dance floor for the others to cavort on probably needs no solo space. But rules is rules, and a (long, loud) drum solo there was. In fact, for all the freedom associated with jazz this is very rule-governed music. Those rules, though, generally support a cascade of small musical adventures which are still liberating to sample up close in a performance like this.

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