Compassionate Dictatorship, Be-Bop Club, Jan 11

Always a treat to hear an established band reaching new heights, and judging by this first date that’s just what this superb quartet are set to do on their current tour. They are on the road to promote a new CD (their 3rd) which hadn’t quite caught up with them on the night, but ought to be available any day. Like the previous two, it will be a great buy for anyone who wants to hear what top-notch UK-based musicians who are au fait – technically and idiomatically – with everything that is interesting about contemporary jazz are delivering.

What’s new? Lots of new compositions, obviously, and shared more equally between guitar wizard Jez Franks, who used to provide nearly all the repertoire, and his long-time collaborator on sax, Tori Freestone. And there’s a change of drummer, with the immensely talented James Maddren appearing instead of Ben Reynolds.

Everyone’s favourite bassist, Jasper Hoiby stays in the mix. And while the first recordings were impressive, on the evidence of this live set the band have really hit their stride now. They still feature a tight connection between a strong guitar and sax sound – now in unison, now interacting – plenty of compelling soloing from both, and a range of pieces which are quite complex but all have immediate appeal as well as plenty of jazzy quirks.

With Maddren behind the kit, the whole thing seems a little looser – he really does have something of Billy Higgins’ springiness about his time, and his hyper-alertness suits the other three perfectly. The sax is a vital part of the group sound, a la Partisans, but when the other three were playing without Freestone the effect reminded me at times of the great Dave Holland-John Abercrombie-Jack DeJohnette trio Gateway: constant interaction, whether musing on a melody or tearing it up. The guitar style seems often akin to the Berklee school sound epitomised by Abercrombie and Mick Goodrick, and is well up to their standard, but I am thinking also of the unmatchable overall feel of that band, bass and drums in irresistible forward motion, guitar frolicking over the top, and the music a continual, exhilarating dance. That is a powerful effect to bring to a small room in Hotwells, and the added delight of Freestone’s tenor playing only made the evening more compelling. I promise not to comment on the comforts, or otherwise, of the Be-Bop club again this year. A full house heard an evening’s new music that was captivating from first second to last. On a night like this, there is no room I’d rather be in. Even better news, there are dates in north Devon at the end of the month, and in Cardiff in March, so may get to hear them again soon.

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