Nick Malcolm and friends, Be-bop club, June 1

Nick Malcolm‘s quartet, with new CD, are on a Jazz Services tour. For this gig on home turf (he seems to be at the club with one band or another about once a fortnight, and spoke warmly about having “grown up” there musically over the years), we had the excellent Cory Mwamba on vibes down from Derby instead of recorded keyboard player Alex Hawkins, and Jake McMurchie dropping by playing tenor – hence Nick and friends.

What does he play now he is grown up? Mostly an absorbingly gnarly brand of freebop, the trumpet often boldly unanchored by conventional licks or harmonies, just setting off into the unknown. He is happy to leave space between the notes, uses valve effects sparingly but effectively, and varies the dynamics with care as well. Which counts for little unless the lines are interesting, and mostly they are. The only standard they played was by Andrew Hill (Dusk), which gives some idea of the    style of the band – eschewing cliche but carefully considered.

Olie Brice on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums provided the loose propulsion which music lacking some of the familiar landmarks needs, and McMurchie played strong solos rooted more firmly in tradition on a couple of tunes in each set.

Best value of the night, for me, was Mwamba on vibes. He almost upstaged the leader by the intensity of his enthusiasm for accompanying to best effect. A man obviously in love with his instrument, he dances-while-playing, and shuffles anything from two to five mallets of different textures to get just the sound he wants. The vibes really come across as a percussion instrument in that stuffy little back room down at The Bear, and unexpected accentuations and finely timed clusters of notes lifted pretty well every piece they played. Quite an intense evening’s music, and the band looked like they needed a rest by the end. Not one where you came out humming the tunes, more enjoying the sensation of having soaked up a big helping of heartfelt music. We hesitated about whether to catch this gig, with a busy weekend in Bath imminent on the Jazzwise ticket. Very glad we did.

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