Matt Holborn Quartet and Gary Potter, 12 January 2018

Matt Holborn, violin

Gary Potter, guitar

Kourosh Kanani, guitar

Dave O’Brien, bass

The full span of contemporary jazz reflects our intensely globalized world: it seems that no combination of musical cultures, instruments and styles is beyond the reach of experimental improvisation. So there are many thrilling departures in the way of unusual time signatures, surprising harmonies and novel ways of re-working familiar songs. Yet sometimes, all a listener craves is a bit of swing. Enter Matt Holborn and his fellow musicians.

‘Gypsy jazz’ is a label that has stuck to violin-guitar jazz swing, but by the time of its emergence as a popular music, it was already a hybrid. Besides, the search for the ‘true source’ of any musical tradition and arguments about purity don’t much interest people who love this music for its sheer vitality and improvisational demands. The best ‘gypsy jazz’—or whatever one chooses to call it—is not an exercise is 1930s Django nostalgia, but is a living part of the larger jazz tradition. No one in attendance at this gig could have been in any doubt about that.

One of the curiosities of this joyous musical form is that even the few slow-paced numbers come across as up-tempo. It really is that infectious. What was of note in this band is that the focus continually shifted, not only between the two guitarists, but also between them and violinist Matt Holborn. This prevented rhythmic monotony and provided ample opportunity for instrumental virtuosity that was most often shrewdly integrated into the numbers, rather than as set-piece soloing. Gary Potter’s mastery of the guitar is well known and widely respected, but Kourosh Kanani was not relegated to rhythm support (which is often the case in bands of this configuration.) Their contrasting and complementary styles were an object lesson in what a subtle and responsive instrument the guitar can be when in the right hands. It was a delight to witness and hear how they chose their chord voicing and runs; and we were all restored to how much of a guitarist’s style is in how they phrase a note.

Matt Holborn favoured thoughtful, well-crafted melodies over fiery displays. There was swing at every turn, but his playing had an intriguing depth, too.

Sometimes, it seemed, his classical roots were showing—and all the better for that, as he lingered over double stops or gave a melodic turn that fit beautifully but had arrived from somewhere quite distant.

Throughout the rapid-fire guitar exchanges between Gary and Kourosh, the entire band was reliant on the musicality and steadiness of Dave O’Brien’s bass.

In many ways, his support was at least as good as his fine soloing—all of which he carried off with a seeming relaxed aplomb.

One of the evening’s highlights was Gary and Kourosh playing a duet on Cannonball Rag. Was it ‘gypsy jazz’? You couldn’t have found a listener who was interested in giving a name to a musical experience as fun as that.

© J.Whitman

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