The sun is streaming in past the empty restaurant tables up above, and down in Future Inns basement a starry five-piece band are getting nicely warmed up for some teatime jazz.
Yes, someone decided to book Olie Brice‘s quintet for a Sunday afternoon date, a departure from the venue’s regular Thursday night slot. On the day, it’s hard to to discover who or why, and it’s clear Bristol’s jazz lovers are mostly enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine elsewhere. Still minimal conditions for jazz are fulfilled (audience is larger than the band) and they play two brief and rather beautiful sets.
Brice’s current quintet – touring before a recording scheduled for June – retain Alex Bonney‘s attractive cornet and master drummer Jeff Williams from his 2013 CD session Immune to Clockwork. They’re joined now by George Crowley on tenor and long-time associate Mike Fletcher on alto saxophone.
The band leans toward free blowing, but anchored by Brice’s compositions. “In order to play free the way I wanted to, I needed more of a grounding in traditional jazz.” he said in a recent interview. That leads to a mix that always appeals, but is hard to bring off this well. There are strong themes, a la Ayler or Coleman, shifting trio configurations with each horn in succession, and fairly big helpings of free polyphony, like a New Orleans front line that has abandoned (nearly) all convention.
I like it. It is music that asks a lot of the performers. Much of the soloing rests entirely on creating new motifs so if inspiration falters it’s immediately obvious. No problem with these players. All three horns are absorbing and inventive throughout – Bonney in particular etching some lovely lines above the bass. They also have the knack, essential when several of the pieces take a turn from slightly yearning opening melodies to turbulent, free-for-all in the middle, of not getting in each other’s way even when things get heated. That’s true in spades of Williams, a peerless “always soloing but hardly ever solos” drummer, who energises every moment from behind a minimal, carefully tuned kit. He has that feeling of looseness allied to easy precision that characterises so many of the great drummers, and reminds at different times of players as diverse as Paul Motian and Roy Haynes.
A master at work…
In the second set they’re joined by Nick Malcolm on trumpet, another player who works this territory to good effect. He’s a splendid addition, and an opening duet with Bonney immediately beguiles. The closer, as yet untitled, is perhaps the most stirring piece they play all afternoon, a strong, elegiac melody that persists all the way through some fervent, free testifying from all four horns at once. Brice’s theme is an emotional as well as musical anchor here, the overall effect powerful and strangely moving, notwithstanding the time of day and the unaccustomed brightness. If they reproduce that in the studio, this crew will lay down a recording that will be worth looking out for.
(Pics of the band courtesy of Marlène Rak – see her work at http://www.marlenerak.com/)