Perpetual Motion Machine, 27 April 2018

Sam Dunn, guitar

Jamie Taylor, guitar

Ben Lowman, tenor saxophone

Garry Jackson, electric bass

Steve Hanley, drums

Sometimes, the configuration of a band or the way the musicians interact in performance dissolves the usually obvious divide between the ‘front line’ and the rhythm section. And since that was the case with Perpetual Motion Machine, it seems fitting to start by describing the bass playing of Garry Jackson. He played the bass lines, of course, but with such a deep appreciation of the harmonic structure of the music and such facility that he often provided something closer to a counter-melody. And his set-piece solo performance, abetted by electronica which enabled him to improvise over a looped bass figure, was a further marvel.

Drummer Steve Hanley provided much of the band’s propulsion, but always deftly, which made possible the band’s many sharp rhythmic turns. His playing was relentlessly energetic, ferocious-but-controlled, such as most drummers reserve for their solos. And the fact that he never actually took a solo was very much part of the character of the band’s music.

Perpetual Motion Machine is normally a sextet, with two tenors. But with the last-minute indisposition of one of them, it fell to Ben Lowman to make the band’s adjustment work without any loss of power or musical integrity. So he was improvising in more than the usual sense—and he carried it off with assurance and skill, weaving between the guitars, complementing melodic lines and sometimes, standing apart and wailing as only a good tenor player can do.

With a line-up like this, the risk is that the music will be of the ‘wall of sound’ variety—more raw power and volume than finesse. But these are jazz musicians after all; and their self-penned compositions contained a surprising amount on melodic sweetness. This brought out the best in the guitars, sliding between their guitars’ chordal and melodic modes. It is a special musical treat to see the musical differences between two instrumentalists played out in an improvisatory setting. For all of their stylistic differences, there was nothing to choose between them, bar particular forms of delight.  Both guitarists also deployed electronic gadgetry, but in a measured, controlled manner—and always in the service of the music, often creating an abstract ‘bridge’ between numbers that flowed into one another.

As expected, power aplenty was there in abundance, too—for which ‘motion’ is a wholly inadequate term to express it. But ‘perpetual’ will do nicely, thank you.

© J.Whitman 27th April 2018

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