Alex Munk – guitar
Matt Robinson – piano/keyboards
Conor Chaplin – electric bass
Dave Hamblett – drums
A glance at the line-up might have suggested two obvious possibilities about the kind of music in store: a guitar power trio + piano, or a conventional jazz piano trio + guitar. In the event, we heard something that was considerably more than the sum of the parts, whatever the pecking order. In fact, the most distinctive feature of the music presented by Flying Machines was that they played as a band—more seamlessly and coherently than is usually the case in small-group jazz. For a start, there was little if any soloing, despite the fact that each of the instrumentalists had room to shine; and all four musicians were effectively ‘front line’, so the music had considerable power of the kind that is not a mere expression of volume.
Because of the ubiquity of the guitar and the way it has saturated popular music for decades, it is difficult to avoid clichés and all too easy to fall back on long, screaming sustains or fast but essentially meaningless runs. But Alex Munk is a fine composer and a thoughtful player—so expressiveness, nuance, rhythmic variety and, yes, experimentation were all to the fore. For all that he could belt out funky lines and powerful chords of the sort John Scofield would feel at home with, he was no less adept at playing softly and sweetly—and even in those numbers, the collective endeavour was never left to stand back or to sag.
Dave Hamblett’s playing was ceaselessly energetic and intensely musical. He is a pulse-led drummer, which requires kinds of attentiveness and musical acuity and responsiveness that are a treat to watch as well as to hear. It’s not often that a drummer assumes ‘front line’ duties, but that’s what the music demanded—and he fulfilled the demands brilliantly.
Similarly, Conor Chaplin could have merely provided the ‘bottom’ to the music instead of playing what was clearly counterpoint to some of Alex’s melodic lines. In that sense—and throughout—he too was front-line. He wasn’t trying to assert himself or to outshine his colleagues—but playing of that sophistication does not drop into the background.
Matt Robinson’s playing was a neat complement to Alex’s. The piano and the guitar are both chordal and melodic, albeit with different voicings, so the harmonic possibilities are legion—and they seemed determined to exploit as many of these as possible. There were no furious exchanges between them, just thoughtful, mutual support—though notably, without ‘vamping’ from either of them, a feature of the evening’s music which is revealing of the quality of the compositions. Matt also played an electronic keyboard which, in combination with Alex’s sound-altering pedals, extended the tonal quality and colour of their music still further. Free-flowing pianism aplenty, of course, but as with his three fellows, never lost to their shared purposes.
The evening’s music was less ‘fusion’ in the musical sub-genre sense, but a fusion of musical talents around a shared ideal and some wonderful tunes. In short: true artistry.