Nicolas Meier, acoustic and glissentar guitars
Kevin Glasgow, bass
Demi Garcia, percussion
Richard Jones, violin
There were so many moments in this performance that would ordinarily be described as ‘show stopping’ as to render the term meaningless—that’s the surest measure of what a thrilling performance this was. At turns vibrant and dynamic, hard-driving, beautifully melodic, rhythmically complex but immediately appealing and with moments of exquisite beauty: quite a feat for a quartet featuring only guitar, bass, violin and hand percussion.
Nic Meier has an international profile and regulars at Wakefield Jazz are already acquainted with his range and technique, but in this context, he revealed another facet of his musical self. He could so easily have leaned back on an approach sometimes adopted by other guitarists of standing: rows and rows of notes, played with rapidity and precision, but without feeling; and the subtleties of the rhythm section confined to churning, keep-pace duties. On this occasion, every number, regardless of the pace and idiom, was soulful, thoughtful and truly engaging—and for these purposes, his fellow musicians were ideal.
Two of Nic’s guitars were fretless, which enabled him to move in and out of Western tonalities into the Turkish musical forms that so inspire him. What was fascinating in these excursions was how he managed to convey something just a little oblique to most listeners’ experience, but with an appeal that was so immediate as to resemble greeting a long-lost friend. And on a key number (‘Prince’s Island’), he played a fretless 11-string configured and tuned to resemble an oud. What he managed to draw forth from that instrument defied categorisation and placed virtuosity at the service of conveying beauty. It was breathtaking.
And what fine accompaniment! It remains very difficult for violinists in jazz contexts to step outside the shadow of ‘Gypsy Jazz’ but Richard Jones appears to have arrived on an entirely different road. Across the span of both sets—and on occasion, even within his solo runs—there were instances of the classical violin tradition; what seemed like a romantic’s nod to abstraction; bits of the American fiddle legacy and so much more, but combined in a way that made it obvious that this was more than a matter of technique—he has a musical voice all his own. In several hushed moments, the nuance of his playing conveyed a sweetness and poignancy that were truly affecting.
Demi Garcia was a musical dynamo. He was a wonder to observe as well as to hear, playing numerous kinds of hand drums with a speed and dexterity which were impressive enough, but the musical deliberation—the countless ways he was able to set up counter-rhythms, the colourful accents he introduced at nearly every turn—were a constant marvel. And if the six-string electric bass needs a champion, it has found one in Kevin Glasgow, who provided fine supporting lines throughout and toward the end of the gig, gave an impressive demonstration of the instrument’s melodic as well as rhythmic potential.
The encore encapsulated the richness and variety of this stunning performance. For the only time of the evening, Nic played an electric guitar, starting on a familiar, if knowingly off-kilter blues. Hand drums? Yes, they seemed entirely apt; Kevin’s bass provided the support so necessary for music of this kind, but then, Richard Jones sailed in with a violin solo that could have been the pride of Nashville. How could such a strange hybrid possibly work? Four master musicians showed us. Utterly delightful, from start to finish.
© J.Whitman 14th October 2018