There’s no guarantee that an all-star jazz quartet will deliver a stellar performance, but when it happens—as it did on this occasion—it’s not only phenomenal music, but also a reminder of what what’s so special about live jazz: the unpredictable, wondrous business of improvising musicians re-fashioning music on the spot. Of course, these were all seasoned professionals, the songs (many of them original) are fine compositions and the band is well-rehearsed, but that just gets us to the first downbeat. What followed was sensational.
Geoff Eales’ piano technique was a treat to watch as well as to hear. He has everything that could be expected at this level in the way of creative left-hand harmonies and right-hand melodic invention and embellishment, but all the while, he also seemed to be operating at another level. That lightning right hand and quick-wittedness provided astonishing runs, some hilarious musical quotations and what can only be described as pianistic somersaults—all without losing the melody (or his fellow musicians.) In this instance, seeing wasn’t always believing; and at several points throughout the evening, there were audible gasps.
Noel Langley’s flugelhorn playing was superb. His tone was utterly secure, retaining the clarity and definition of brass, but without its more piercing qualities, which perfectly matched the more elegiac pieces: a plangent sound that imparted depth and feeling. He could also raise the roof on both flugelhorn and trumpet; and his soloing on a tribute to the late trumpeter Kenny Wheeler was a wonderful invocation of his sound and style.
The full and resonant sound that Chris Laurence drew from his bass was only the start. Not only in his solo passages but throughout the evening, his music was fully integrated into the band, yet watching and listening to him was a bass Master Class all on its own. His solo on Geoff Eales’ tribute to the late John Taylor was a thing of beauty, perfectly executed and deeply felt.
Geoff Eales is such a joyful and exuberant pianist that he can hardly resist the chance to break into rollicking passages—and throughout those, drummer Martin France was the ideal partner. ‘Propulsive’ is the only adequate way of describing drumming which is so energetic, full of color and accents; relentlessly creative and responsive. Between the four of them, it was difficult to know who to watch.
The night ended with a riotous encore that seemed to surprise even the players.
More than the sum of the parts’? Closer to multiples.