‘All-star band delivers all-star music’ would be a truthful headline, but by the end of the evening, the only impossibility left standing was finding superlatives adequate to two thrilling hours of music-making. There was scarcely a passage that on many a gig wouldn’t count as one of a few highlights.
And riotous applause aside, has a packed house ever been so quietly attentive?
The international acclaim that each of these musicians has garnered isn’t enough on its own to guarantee a band so well integrated, so committed and so much fun to watch and hear. They, too, seemed to be having a wonderful time.
Planet Guitar has no shortage of speed jockeys and power merchants, but what many of them lack is what Mike Walker has in abundance: precision and, particularly in the hushed passages, exquisite phrasing. There were some heart-melting exchanges with Gwilym Simcock; astute accompaniments, unpredictable solos and even some funk. A younger generation of guitarists might note: the power was in the music, not the volume, or the speed of the playing.
Adam Nussbaum’s drumming was often the pivot on which the music turned, with its startling pauses, sudden changes of direction or tempo, quite individual deployment of accents and dramatic effects. Even at full tilt, his attentiveness to the band and musical inventiveness never waned. He was also great fun to watch: a performer in more than one sense, but always in the service of the band.
Steve Rodby’s full, resonant bass deftly underpinned everything and was much to the fore in the duet and trio sections; and his solos were un-showy, thoughtful and engaging.
Iain Dixon played bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, adding to the depth and tonal variety of the music and providing superb, memorable solos. His soprano excursions were carefully controlled, musically adventurous and a great display of melodic invention. The bass clarinet doesn’t often venture far from supporting roles because there aren’t many who can make a bass clarinet swing—but Iain Dixon managed this even while switching between instruments.
At every turn, Gwilym Simcock was outstanding. His playing frequently seems to dissolve the left hand/right hand division of duties that characterises so much jazz piano playing—and not only when he was playing piano and synthesiser simultaneously. Despite the power that this quintet was capable of summoning, there were several quiet numbers, during which his remarkably light touch, superb timing and control of the piano’s dynamics were much in evidence.
On a beautifully elegiac tribute to the late John Taylor, his use of the sustain pedal against the spacious harmonies of the tune was a revelation.
The finale was a rousing blues, for which Iain Dixon played his tenor and entered into an escalating exchange with Mike Walker’s guitar and Adam Nussbaum’s drums. It was a barnstorming end to an evening which hadn’t been short of high-octane excitement—and of musical possibilities few of us could have conceived in advance.
© J.Whitman 29th October 2016