22 March 2012

The sound of snow and long nights

The Reuben Lewis Quintet concert was called Scandinavian reflections and it started just as I expected: slow, meditative, rubato feels or barely implied beats, long crescendos, bass pedals, piano arpeggios, cymbals and rolls and mallets. These are the sounds of snow and chill and white to my ears, and this seems perfectly appropriate for Scandinavian jazz. This jazz sounds as you see it.

I was thinking of how this varies from US jazz, or perhaps the jazz of warmer countries. Partly, through the influence of ECM and its stable and its uncompromising recordings. But some of the tunes sounded more American to me: livelier, stronger grooves. Luke was playing a Rhodes, and although he tells me there are plenty in Europe, I hear Euro-jazz with classical (and folk) influences and played on fine grand pianos. The Rhodes is more swampy to my ears, especially when effected. And while Reuben in very influenced by this jazz (he mentioned Tomasz Stanko), I often heard bop conceptions in Max’s playing. (No problems there: I actually prefer it). But it was as I meditated on Reuben’s introduction that mentioned “melody and communication”, and as I listened to Simon’s sparse but clear and concentrated bass lines, that I felt the difference. There’s an intensity of interaction and a love of pure, unaffected tone here, along with a slow, folk-affected melodic sense. Simon was just defining one chord, but every note was a treasure and every interval was well considered. Aidan’s drumming sat the same way: sparse and melodic, story telling rather than rudimental. This was a unified whole rather than a soloist and rhythm section. It’s not such a new discovery, of course. Musicians have been concerned with this since the ’50s from the cool and modal and free eras but this style is at a high level and riddled with solitary intensity. This is the music of people thrown together for long nights. It’s not urgent or urban. It’s close to music of the very late night jazz club. But there’s also a feeling of darkness and unspoken closeness and unfilled time in this music. Slow or single chords, open rhythms, internalised thought spreading quietly. Even a pop song, when it arrived, was like this. They played Bjork’s tremulous Hyperballad, and the intriguing melody appeared occasionally amongst more obscure improvised meanderings. Nice but icy.

Anyway, that’s how I heard it. Reuben Lewis (trumpet) led a quintet at the Gods Café with Max Williams (tenor), Luke Sweeting (Rhodes piano), Simon Milman (bass) and Aidan Lowe (drums).

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
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