You can tell something about a jazzer by the company they keep. Hence all those mini-features in the jazz mags that resort to lists of people-the-musician-has-played-with. I don’t criticise. I do it too. Words for music are hard and it’s much easier just to invoke other people who make good noises than to describe what the subject actually does.
Perhaps you can learn more from the composers someone chooses to sample on an impromptu gig, though. The thought comes courtesy of this superb evening at the BeBop club. Impromptu because George Crowley’s tour was booked for Friday, but guitarist Rob Luft was diverted to the posher margins of the Cheltenham jazz fest the same evening (Supper club gig: £65 a head – so even if the food is top notch I assume the fee is a bit higher).
But the show must go on. Or, as this is jazz, a different show. Fellow sax player Sam Crockatt appeared in place of Luft and, as it turned out, late entry Will Harris on bass subbed for a poorly Riaan Vosloo. And Crowley left behind the music his band have been playing on tour and programmed some favourite tunes instead.
And they played the hell out of them, just four in each set – with plenty of space for everyone to do their stuff. First up was Joe Lovano’s driving Fort Worth – some statement of intent for two sax players. Then My Melancholy Baby (careful to disown the lyrics but endorsing the tune) which doesn’t disclose any other musical allegiances. More revealing was It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago. One of Paul Motian’s finest. And prompting mention of the Lovano/Motian/Frisell trio, one of the greatest improvising outfits of the last 30 years. Set one finished with Barracuda (or General Assembly), a Wayne Shorter tune that also brings Gil Evans to mind.
Since we had a two horn quartet without a harmony instrument, the setting was perfect for some Ornette, who was duly acknowledged with Broadway Blues to open set two. First heard on New York is Now, and revived memorably by Pat Metheny on Bright Size Life, it’s a belter, and brought out the best in all four players. A brace of Monk tunes (Ask me Now and Bye-Ya) followed, and another from Motian, Circle Dance, to close.
All classy stuff, to say the least. The potential modern jazz repertoire is vast, but these are all the sort of tunes a developing player (I imagine) hears and learns because they want to own them. The bonus is that pieces that grip good musicians that strongly are fantastic to listen to as well. And everyone on the stand got stuck in like kids at a party eating a tea composed entirely of treats. If the brilliant Tim Giles on drums played a little too loud for the room, as drummers will, it was a minor drawback in an evening of pure enjoyment. They should do this kind of thing more often. Everyone should.