6 April 2012

Tenorism

It was a night to wallow in tenor sax and hard swinging jazz when Niels Rosendahl and John Mackey played at the Gods. I commented to a few people that we don’t hear this straightahead, hard-biting blowing so often these days. People agreed and some were nostalgic. Niels said he feels most comfortable in this style. It’s a great style and pretty much the introduction of many people to jazz. It almost sounds almost quaint to describe it these days: hard swinging walking bass, richly embellished and busily energetic polyrhythms from drums, the colours and harmonic leads of modal comping on piano and that quintessential wail of the tenor in full abandon as it rides the chords or flies somewhere above them. Or later in the night when the ballads come out, the tempo is tamed, the energy is dissipated, but the depth remains. It wasn’t such a long night, so Body and soul, as clearly emoted as was Niels’ take on the Coleman Hawkins version of 1939, was not fatigued but it was intensely beautiful. The night’s tunes make up your truncated Real Book index: Body and soul, Johnny Griffin/John Coltrane/Hank Mobley’s All the things you are, Fletcher Henderson’s Invitation, Sam River’s Beatrice, Lester Young’s Lester leaps in, Charlie Parker’s Confirmation, Wayne Shorter’s Night dreamer, Joe Henderson’s Inner urge. Beatrice is a favourite ballad of mine but was fresh to my ears in this incarnation. John led that as a quartet. He also led Confirmation, this time as a duo with Mark on drums, in a take on the duo by Chick Corea (on drums!) and Michael Brecker from 1981. This was unrehearsed (no problem there), moving through rubato and swing, adventurous and eminently successful (nice combination). The band even snuck in two originals, both by John, and both in the style of the great tenors. Pantano Drive is a driving C-minor blues take on Mr PC, and Whoops! is a hardbop melody built on Giant steps changes (this was Niels’ choice in place of Giant steps itself). I recognised both and enjoyed them immensely. The two tenors played the heads in unison, and what power! These are two saxists with huge tone and ridiculously easy technique. But they are also quite different. John, mentor to Niels, is screeds of chromatic or tonal colour and masses of notes, so the return to melody is somewhat an unexpected delight. Niels takes a more classic solo development route of absorbing melody building to flourishes and a more judicious use of extravagance. But they are both mature performers and I love both approaches. Pianist Andy is another generation of performer (there are a few here). His comping was of the hardbop era, but his solos were more contemporary takes on most tunes, although I heard some straight boppy soloing towards the end. Rohan is an upcoming jazz star out of a classical background (I also heard him with the AYO) who’s wonderfully fluent with lyrical solos well into thumb positions and steady walks although I would have liked a fuller tone. Mark is a busy and detailed drummer who’s perfect for this style and just showed it again: mature and masterful. I was in a spot to watch his technique and it was devastating: so intricately detailed (I was dumbfounded to watch the delicate control of middle finger on snare stick) yet solid and intense and driving. This was a refreshing and immensely skilled concert and the essence of hard-biting jazz.

Niels Rosendahl (tenor sax) and John Mackey (tenor sax) led a quintet with Andy Butler (piano), Rohan Dasika (bass) and Mark Sutton (drums) at the Gods playing music of the jazz tenor greats.

  • Cyberhalides Jazz Photos by Brian Stewart
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