Sam Leak’s ‘Adrift’, 18th May 2018

John Crawford, piano
Guillermo Hill, guitar
Richard Adler, bass
Andres Ticino, percussion
Simon Pearson, drums

What we have come to think of as jazz is a hybrid of diverse musical cultures; and the key to its longevity and vitality is that it has become one of the world’s great improvising traditions, always keen to venture into other musical forms for fresh material, new melodies, unfamiliar rhythms and adventuresome harmonies. So it is that ‘Latin Jazz’ first emerged as a surprising hybrid but is now a familiar form, part of the broader family of jazz sub-cultures. But that broad, descriptive term cannot begin to convey the musical riches and possibilities—and anyone who thought that they were in for an evening of light-touch Bossa Nova was instead immediately propelled into an evening of utterly compelling, remarkably varied and quite thrilling music.

One of the striking features of the performance by the John Crawford Quintet is that Latin Jazz the hybrid was itself hybridizing music not only from Latin America and Spain but also from counters as diverse as Mali and Bulgaria; and they even brought their superb rhythmic talents to bear not only on a Pat Metheny tune, but also one of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances. Yet none of what might be called the wilder shores of Latin Jazz felt in any way experimental or forced. The rhythmic mastery of these musicians meant that they were able to adapt some surprising material to a revealing scope of rhythmic forms. And yes, they even performed a Bossa Nova.

The music was seamless, even allowing for the solo passages; and whatever the tempo and volume, each of the musical lines was always distinct. So as listeners, we could be carried away by the sheer lyrical and rhythmic beauty of the band’s sound, or listen intently to try to savour the lines of interplay. But it’s not a simple matter to pick apart a bit of musical magic—and who would try?

The simplest yet entirely accurate way of citing the individual performers is to say that they were all superb, both individually and in the way that they combined. Given the strong emphasis on rhythm in Latin Jazz, pinpoint precision that retains a loose, swinging feel is the order of the day; and so dextrous were they that many of the numbers swerved into new rhythmic territory half-way through; and the sudden-death endings brought forth laughter from the audience several times.

The virtues of electric guitar are numberless, but Guillermo Hill played an amplified acoustic, which gave his notes a clean, near-pristine sound that combined beautifully with John Crawford’s piano—and the way that they combined (almost never in a strictly rhythm/lead configuration) was a show in itself. Combine with bass, drums and percussion to deliver music that was remarkably intricate, but never departed from impelling even the most stolid to want to dance.  They left one very happy and utterly delighted audience—that much fun.

© J.Whitman

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