Embodied hope – and Phronesis…

A review here by way of a preview. Stunning evening last night at the Hen and Chicken (first in a sequence of five Sunday gigs from Ian Storror – check out the others here). High energy drummer Andrew Bain‘s quartet were stellar individually – George Colligan conjuring miraculously grand sounds from the venue’s less than top notch piano, John Irabagon absolutely world class on tenor, Michael Janisch digging deep on bass. Collectively, they were working at a level often aspired to, rarely achieved. And the band in full flight sounded genuinely transported more than once. On Hope, in particular, which closed the first set, they reached a pitch of hard-swinging intensity I don’t think I’ve experienced since the days of the George Adams-Don Pullen quartet – makes you want to move, but at the same time hold still because you daren’t miss a moment. Breathtaking stuff.

The writing helped – and as Bain explained as the evening wore on it was inspired by a book which explores the bases of effective human action, and particularly the conditions for “embodied hope”, the title of the suite they played. In particular, he’s interested in the idea, which of course all sensible people subscribe to, that jazz at its best is a worthy model of people co-operating freely, under constraint, to create wonderful new things. Case proved!

Perhaps that accounted for the general feeling of uplift at the end of this gig – necessary at the end of this week of all weeks. (And how weird it must feel for Colligan and Irabagon to be heading back to the US shortly after a fortnight on tour here while their country fell into the hands of the forces of darkness.) Music, as ever, can’t make it all better. But it can make it seem worth going on trying to find ways of working that involve the kind of skill, trust, and attention to everyone else that help improve, well, just about anything.

That doesn’t happen on every gig (shame). But I can’t think of another, finer example of a band who consistently evoke that feeling that Phronesis – who play St George’s on Tuesday. Ten years since they started out, they’ve grown into one of the most thrilling, intense and enjoyable groups you can hope to hear. Their appearance at Wiltshire Music Centre a few months ago, just before they launched their brilliant new CD in London, was extraordinary, as Mike Collins wrote at the time. I’ve tried to find words for their work myself a couple of times, at Cheltenham last year, and the same year’s London Jazz festival here and here (both different occasions from regular trio gigs, but all good).

Did you miss one of the city’s musical events of the year on Sunday? Afraid you probably did. Want to make sure you don’t repeat the omission? Get down to St George’s tomorrow!



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