07 June 2009


I enjoy the chordless trio format, but James LeFevre and Hannah James took this one step further yesterday at Minque when they played as a duo of tenor and bass. This format not just harmonically open, but also rhythmically open. Being so open, it’s demanding on both instruments. They both must state or at least imply the harmonic movement, but they also must both take rhythmic roles. Neither of these are new for the bass, but the openness does give it unusual space for play. And for the sax, there’s a groove-stating role which is not too commonly used elsewhere, and also a space of delightful clarity of sound, given the very different sonorities and pitches of the bass and tenor.

So I was looking forward to Hannah and James in this duo format. I wasn’t disappointed. Hannah remarked on the openness and space. It was a busier and more playful Hannah I heard in the duo: good strong statements of the grooves, with the nuances clear to hear, and busy fills and plenty of solos, and a readiness to move over the fingerboard into thumb positions. Her tone was both rich in high end, and deep. She’s talking of another cabinet for a stronger and punchier middle, but this thinner sound worked for the duo format. James was in his element, too. I’ve been impressed recently by the authority James has been showing in performance. There’s often a blues edge and full tone, and this suited the groove-stating horn lines backing Hannah’s solos. I thought of ensemble-formed discipline, which develops amongst horn players with experience of big bands and the like. But there’s also plenty of knowledge to depart from staid lines and harmonies and venture into flurries and out passages.

The tunes were the known Real Book repertoire of standards and latins and jazz tunes: a few Monk tunes and Miles and Shorter and Jobim and the luscious American songbook. Nothing unusual, but open and clear, and lots of room to move and play. Much enjoyed by me, but also by a small but nicely appreciative crowd. James puts on different bands each week at Minque, so get down to Manuka on Saturday afternoons and support the gig. Free entry and cheap drinks.

James LeFevre (tenor) played a duo set with Hannah James (bass).

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