There was nothing unconventional about the line-up, but while the music was firmly rooted in the traditions of jazz, nearly everything about it was surprising and very often, thrilling.
Wordless vocalise is not new to jazz, but Neomi Nuti didn’t merely thicken melodic lines or add embellishments: her voice was the front-line instrument, in partnership with Leo Richardson’s tenor. It was a long way from scat—her soaring lines and creative expressiveness combining with pure and beguiling delivery. In less inventive and accomplished hands, an approach of this kind would almost certainly have sounded like edgy experimentalism; instead, we had the qualities of Andrew McCormack’s melodies brought to full expression—each number crafted in ways which made extraordinary demands of the range and strength of her voice. Forget everything you thought you knew about female jazz vocalists.
Although Neomi was most often leading, with Leo Richardson’s accompaniments deftly placed, he had his moments of powerful tenor soloing, too: the evening was from start to finish a display of the marvels of ensemble playing—and in this, the pairing of Andrew McCormack and Anton Eger was thrilling. Their musicianship didn’t fall back on occasional, set-piece virtuoso displays; in fact, their playing throughout both sets would have served as an evening’s highlight for many a lesser band. Even in his fastest, most complex solo passages, Andrew McCormack retained a control and precision that was difficult to credit, even for those of us able to watch his hands. And then there is his resourcefulness: lightning runs (sometimes, as a stream of arpeggios) rapid-fire, stabbing chords, and superb left-hand facility. It might have been frenetic, bordering on ‘freak out’ playing, but the song to hand always remained intact, brought to a level of intensity that raised shouts from the audience.
Anton Eger was in superb form, too, his playing a vivid, constant reminder of the kinds of creativity and responsiveness it takes to drive forward music at this level. His drumming was such a fine display of musicianship that his one solo turn seemed as much a continuation as a culmination.
The electric bass doesn’t always meet with favour from jazz audiences, but it has its place in some musical configurations—and especially one as propulsive as this—and Robin Mularky was able to exploit that instrument’s particular qualities, much abetted by his electronica, which enabled his to match the tonal qualities of his playing to Neomi’s stylistic variations.
Perhaps the height of the evening was a number entitled ‘Andromena’ in which Andrew started with a shimmering, organ-like keyboard backdrop over which
Neomi sang mesmerising, sustained notes, without vibrato. Of course, it didn’t stay ethereal for long. After all, this was a band with something to say—and they did so with originality, panache and an energy that was appreciated by everyone in attendance.
Andrew McCormack, piano and keyboard
Neomi Nuti, voice
Leo Richardson, tenor sax
Robin Mularky, bass
Anton Eger, drums