The sound source on the vibes is a solid metal bar. Blowing on it makes very little sound at all.
But you can hear it. Corey Mwamba proved it again in Bath Spa University’s handsomely appointed performance space at Burdall’s Yard on the London Road: a testament to his non-standard technique and to the audience’s complete attention. The proverbial pin, if dropped, would have been quite intrusive.
Not that this is a quiet trio. When the mood takes them, they have an imperious rhythmic sweep, Blackmore sustaining complex beats on the drums, Kane locking in deep in the bass, Mwamba loosing off fusillades of notes in two-fisted virtuoso style.
He doesn’t actually use his fists, I don’t think – mallets are deployed. But also fingers, the flat of his hand, knuckles on at least one occasion, and, for a while, a stiff length of folded paper. Add a brace of bows, and the vibes alone give the trio great textural and rhythmic variety.
Add two such sympathetic collaborators and the result is music, free but wonderfully disciplined, that brings the pleasure of hearing a live performance to rare heights. Over two improvised sets they sustained that beguiling sense of music that is being conjured before your eyes, and ears, that only the best group playing evokes – fans of the Wayne Shorter Quartet will know what I mean. And their attention to the smallest details can make you fall in love with sound all over again.
It’s a great format for a trio, too. You get two bowed instruments – vibes and bass – and one piece featured that blend to stunning effect. Also, with drumsticks and mallets, two percussion instruments, interacting quite differently. And you get vibes, drums and bass together in a sound combination that is particularly pleasing – I was put in mind of great sessions with Ed Blackwell, Dave Holland and Karl Berger. Both the instrumentation and, at times, the approach, sound similar, although Berger uses the vibes more conventionally. But these guys definitely work at that level.
And while sound is the first and last priority, there’s fun in watching, too. Blackmore is impassively focussed at the drumkit, whether flicking small accents or building long figures. Mwamba mixes seamless runs on the vibes with spells when he stands poised, then suddenly leaps in with a four mallet chord, a sneak attack as if he is trying to surprise his instrument as well as the listener. Kane is hyper-attentive in the middle, visibly enjoying the constant stimulus from the other two, and making it a constant three-way conversation.
This is trio music of the highest order, and the mostly student audience soaked it all up. Three of the Bath Spa jazz students – no names but a drummer, guitarist and trumpeter who workshopped with Corey earlier in the day – joined Kane and Mwamba for a couple of numbers at the start of the evening. They were understandably more tentative, but acquitted themselves pretty well. I think they’ll remember this evening for a long time. I know I will.