"Yesterday I listened... today I loved!"
Posted on: 14th May 2012
We've been celebrating 'Theme GB' with the best of British music all week; along with the lavish sound worlds of Jonathan Harvey, the meditative transcendentalism of John Tavener and the astonishing colours of George Benjamin, this year also offered the chance to hear a colossus of British jazz, pianist Julian Joseph, up close and personal with his trio.
The first half opened with a Joseph original, My Brother, with a shimmering piano extemporisation, full of colours, which slowly changed into some solid swing, with some terrific agility from bassist Mark Hodgson. The ensemble stepped delicately in the start of the next piece, another original piece entitled In There With You, with deft brushwork from Mark Mondesir on drums belying the slow united build-up into a real tempest, with fiery playing from the whole trio.
Even Duke Ellington's classic Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me was given a robust makeover; starting with a barn-storming soliloquy from the bass, it gradually expanded into some time-bending drumming from Mondesir that provoked equally creative responses from the piano. This was very much a feature of the gig, a sense that the musicians were egging each other on, enjoying challenging each other and eliciting a response that would raise the creative pitch further still. There was an almost mischievous glee in their trying to catch each other out, the sparring between piano and drums solidly underpinned by Hodgson's sure-footed bass-playing.
A tumultuous first half closed with The Fire-hose, featuring Joseph's familiar questing, restless rhythmic sense, a real powerhouse original with robust piano textures and a ducking-and-diving metric feel that was hardly ever still.
A broad bass monologue opened Doctone and the second half, a tribute to the late Kenny Kirkland (he of Wynton Marsalis and Sting fame) in a deft 6/8 metre that saw a blistering piano solo. Just Friends followed hard upon, before a two-part epic, The Reverend (Back Home, To Glory), an original suite which began with a lulling 5/8 feel in a warm key of Dmajor, leading into a cooking swing 3/4 melody. The second main theme in 4/4 modulated into Eb major where the solos took place.
The evening concluded with a surprise guest, saxophonist Vaughan Hawthorne, with whom Joseph had played on the former's youthful debut album, Emanon back in 1987. The quartet launched into a brisk rendition of Parker's Now's the Time, with Hawthorne's trademark elliptical harmonic explorations on sax calling forth a piano solo of epic proportions, a big-as-barn-door bass solo and some thundering exchanges of fours between soloists and drummer.
A rapturous ovation from a delighted audience brought the group back for an ostinato-dominated reading of Gershwin's Nice Work If You Can Get It, with some fluttering nods to the opening of 'Rhapsody in Blue' from Joseph and a rock-solid tonic pedal beneath some Spanish-inflected modal harmony. As the group left the stage, there was a sense that we had witnessed three truly stellar musicians pushing each other to greater heights all evening, and having great fun in the process. Joseph's voraciously-inventive playing ranges from delicate melodic lines to robust grooving, an outrageously inventive rhythmic sense, and an harmonic language glowing with handfuls of cascading harmonies yet one firmly rooted in the blues tradition; and we'd heard it all over the course of the gig. A terrific occasion, and a fitting inclusion in Sounds New’s celebration of the best of British.
Posted by Daniel Harding
Images credit: Peter Cook