His alto has a sinuous quality: twisting, fluid. He plays with seemingly indeterminate pitch and time, moving phrases over the beat structure, and bending notes at will. There are lots of long, multi-octave scales and arpeggios at different levels of dissonance and different substitutions. There were simple lines, perhaps repeated with changing discordance. Always with loose rhythm and pitch which makes everything a personal and intense statement, and always honest. He’d be playful, toying with the underlying structures, but there was always a connection to the underlying tune, and always an intense, ongoing rhythm. After the gig, he mentioned that he’d be happy to see people up dancing. It was a confirmation of the centrality of swing to his jazz; there was always this intense beat amongst all this exploration.
Bernie was accompanied by Eric Ajaye (bass) and Chris Thwaite (drums), Graham Monger (guitar) and Dirk Zeylmans (tenor sax). They all played well and were thoughtful in how they responded to Bernie. I expect his unique style makes for a demanding outing for his band. I’ve written on them all here; this report is one for Bernie.
The tunes were bop and standards: My little suede shoes, Scrapple from the apple, Body and soul, Tenor madness, Night and day, and the like. There was no chat with the audience. Despite plenty of informed listeners, it was a noisy, chatty environment, so perhaps it didn’t lend itself to stage patter. Just two sets of intense jazz interpretation with a long, intense history behind it. Great stuff.
** "His sound reminds me very much of the Australian landscape. Dry and brittle and almost Coocoboro-like [sic. I guess the transcriber meant "Kookaburra-like". ed.] about the way he plays ... if Jan Garbarek is a fjord man, Bernie is the opposite of that, he is dry, witty". Paul Grabowski on Bernie McGann in Is jazz dead? : or has it moved to a new address / Stuart Nicholson. NY : Routledge, 2005, p.188.