29 August 2012

Without you

God only knows what I’d be without you. It’s a haunting theme and a perfect melody and maybe a song that Jocie Jensen’s grandfather sang to his deceased wife in her garden. Jocie performed last night in a septet at the Loft. It may be the name of the unassuming band, or maybe just of this performance, but Jocie and Rhys presented this as Hilda’s garden. I heard the story twice and it had me close to tears both times. Her grandmother, Hilda, developed dementia and her husband, Jocie’s grandfather, built a garden for her to tend. After she died, he would sing to his departed spouse in her garden. Maybe he sang the Beachboys song, God only knows. I can only admire such a touching and life-affirming response to loss.

Jocie told me before the concert that she was seeking to perform something other than just jazz standards. In the end, there was jazz, and these are trained jazz players, so the performance had solos and chops, but this gig ventured far afield: to song and melody (Jocie mentioned good song-writing several times during patter) and to pop (but not pap) and to words (but not intellectualisation). Jazz also has its melodies, of course (I have bop in my head frequently), but these are mostly intellectual and thrilling rather than deep and touching. We got one of those intellectual thrills as the final tune, Monk’s dream, with its rabid atonalism and virtuosic abandon, and one of the few jazz tunes that can touch the soul as an encore, Round midnight, but mostly these songs were from other repertoires. A distillation of Simple Minds’ Don’t you forget about me; Vince Jones’ rich structure in Love comes back; Sigur Rós Góðan Daginn, translated from Icelandic; Chris Thile’s The beekeeper with a bluegrass-styled unison piano-fiddle middle; Pat Metheny’s Midwestern night’s dream (Jocie: Pat Metheny sure can write music); Peter Gabriel’s In your eyes (Jocie: he writes great melodies); A-Ha’s rollicking Take on me; and as a starter, Christian Scott’s The Eraser with unison syncopated comping on piano/bass behind a tasteful melody. And that superbly beautiful God only knows sung with solo guitar backing. These are obviously not jazz charts, but they are impressive and affecting songs.

They were an unassuming band and their concern was with song, so I am wary of mentioning individuals. But what did I notice? Jocie’s voice mostly sang pure and high with a subtle decay into vibrato, but perhaps my favourite was when she got down, dirty and atonal, in Monk’s dream with odd intervals and bluesy growls. El’s violin is infrequent in jazz but a wonderful sound, wet with reverb and very smart and animated and with classically-correct intonation. Tom’s trumpet (muted or not) and flugel dropped a few frenzied lines but were mostly lyrical and nicely structured, often working in harmony with the Jocie’s voice or against El’s counterpoint. Luke is just a master and eminently professional. I laughed with his outlandish solo in Monk’s dream that was far enough out that I wondered if it was just free, but it was littered with the slightest of hints at underlying chords. Rhys had a modest demeanour, eyes down in thought, but then surprised me with what was the nearest thing to shredding during a few later solos. Alec and Luke were supportive rhythm section with rock rhythms, understated percussion, unison written lines and occasional walks.

This was touching stories and refreshing melody from a very unexpected setlist. Hilda’s garden was led by Jocie Jensen (vocals) and Rhys Mottley (guitar) with support from Tom Sly (trumpet, flugelhorn), Llewellyn (El) Osborne (jazz violin), Luke Sweeting (piano, accordion), Alec Coulson (bass) and Luke Keanan-Brown (drums, percussion).

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