11 February 2012

The cycle of musical life

I was most surprised by the maturity when the Luke Sweeting Sextet played at the Loft. I shouldn’t have been. I’ve seen all these guys before and watched them over time do plenty of impressive gigs. But here there was a composition unity and voice that spoke to me beyond just solos. They are about to record a CD so I suppose they are well practiced (even if I caught a few bloopers) but it was beyond this. Luke’s voice has impressed me since I first noticed him playing in a large ensemble gig perhaps 5 years back. I asked him then how long he’d been playing, and was a bit taken back at his short history in jazz, perhaps a year or so. Then his compositional voice also impressed with that ensemble a year or two later. These guys are all strong as individuals but here I was most impressed how they are melded as a glorious unit with those three horns, sweet and melodious and dynamically controlled, upfront and Chris’ easily syncopated bass and Aidan’s gently stated but driving drums enlivened with Luke’s own syncopations and ostinatos. This format – several harmonising horns as sextet or thereabouts - and this music, talks to jazz that I love. The deep grooves introduced with lyrical melodies spoken with the cleanest of horn harmonies, and of course the individualist statements of the solos. (I don’t know the exact quote, but) Mingus once said that his band had to effectively perform his charts, but their solos were their own business. I hear that here too. There’s an ease with the charts: they are well understood and interpreted, the harmonies are clear and the syncopations feel right. Then the solos are extensions of the personalities of each player. Matt hit first with authority and structure and fluidity and inventiveness that stunned. It’s not just for Matt’s playing, but I’m feeling more for the higher range of the alto these days, and in my listening it seems to be more common. Reuben is fast and furious and ecstatic but carries a droll presence on stage. Max is softer in tone and more restrained in performance and a fascinating penchant for intervallic soloing. Luke covered the waterfront. Blistering runs of tonal play; rich counterpoint between hands; dissonant chordal soloing; ostinatos and comping and even synth-like swelling chords on his suitcase Rhodes. As I find with the best of music, there was intense busy-ness here, but it felt easy and unfussed: an enviable skill and the mark of the well trained and talented artist. Here’s the result of several years of good training on the best of the students: once unformed, now mature, but always searching and learning.

Then all the fun of the jam, and it was fun. A few beers, axes shared, mixing and matching of players and those old standards. I’ll mention some older mates who joined in with the student crowd: Mike and Demetri and me. I struggled with Chris’s “beast of a bass” as described by Max. Max seemed to have no problems. I long for the strong hands that Chris and Max must both have. Mike sat in for a series of tunes, sometimes with a second pianist, either Luke or Andy. I noticed a delightful bluesy authority in Demetri’s alto and an ease when playing collective improv with other horns. Very nicely played. The jam all came to a head with Giant steps and jokingly swapped fours by all the band and some grunts where someone missed a chord. And a final bop blues to end the night. Latish, but enlivening and lots of chuckles amid the seriousness of earning respect that is a jam session.

Luke Sweeting (piano, Rhodes) led a sextet comprising Matt Handel (alto), Max Williams (tenor), Reuben Lewis (trumpet, fluegelhorn), Chris Pound (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums). For other than one tune by Reuben, they played compositions by Luke. This was a fundraiser to start the new year at the Loft and what a great night.

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