4 October 2012

Back to Bb

Stephane Belmondo’s session at the Bb last night got the title “The same as it never was before”. It’s meaningless and a thought twister but it’s apt for music like this. The tunes didn’t matter too much. Megan commented that there was no melody, and she’s essentially right. There was a ballad with some appealing melody and Round Midnight, played as an encore just a few minutes early, had a luscious and identifiable melody although Stephane’s skills and inventiveness embellished this to no-end too. The Bb program notes for the night talks of a “post hard-bop style mixed with a more classical jazz” but I pretty much heard it as harp-bop. No complaints there; I was writhing in pleasure at some of the best of the style that I’ve ever heard.

These guys are masters and seniors of the craft. They start hot to trot from the top, but then get hotter, and the play on, long sets of perspiration and streams of notes. But I also noticed a nice, professional mix of tunes. Boppers don’t usually swap instruments – they are masters of their own – but for the first tune in set two, Kirk took up flute and Stephane plucked piano strings and harmonised on conch shell. That was new to me. He pitched with a hand moving in and out of the opening and it was interesting and surprisingly effective as an instrument. But it couldn’t match a valved instrument. Stephane was wondrous with phrasing that bamboozled me at times. Lines that start and stop unexpectedly; twisted, scalar, sequences, dissonant, sidestepped, substituted. All the techniques but with a cleverness and artistic purpose that rose above all this. And great tone; rich, rounded, tongued; on trumpet and what seemed a very large flugelhorn. A master of the craft. But ears, too. I noticed the interplay of Stephane and Kirk on piano. Kirk was all big handed playing, coloured extensions, thematic variation, and eyes. He hardly looked down at the keys, always eyes at Stephane or drummer Laurent, always prodding, playing, switching, leading. The harmonic responsiveness between brass and piano was a wonder, and the rhythmic play between drums and piano were similarly real. I thought New Orleans with his bluesy funked up grooves and his stagey, jokey interactions and more-important-than-life commitment. This was sweat with the blues like it mattered. Nothing else in the world for these few hours. Laurent picked up on it. He was a driving monster with eyes to the band and the longest and sweatiest drum solos I’ve heard for some time in jazz. I forget Sylvain, but his solo was a wonder, too, using open strings wonderfully for a busy solo throughout the fingerboard and a great tone (a mic under the bridge and little GK), his walks strong and slightly ahead of the beat, and some very effective but not intrusive grooves. All round, these were experts. Earlier on I was most taken by Kirk and his colour and rich variation and harmonic leadership, but at the end I was drooling over Stephane’s phrasing and fluency and inventive melodic ideas. The take on Round midnight was just a blissful reminder of just how far these guys have taken the art. The variation and richness against something known just demonstrates the level of their artistry. This was a blowout by some of the best. Stéphane Belmondo (trumpet, flugelhorn) played with Kirk Lightsey (piano), Sylvain Romano (bass) and Laurent Robin (drums) at Bb in Berlin.

Just in passing, I’ll comment on jazz crowds. They are interesting. One bloke was writing stream of consciousness at the gig - Finnegan’s wake in Bb? His mate was an amateur guitarist and professional photographer. Here’s a funny story I had chatting to another bloke. “Guitarist?”, “No” … “Musician?”, “Yes, trumpet”, chuckling “I just thought guitarist because you wear a hat like Kurt Rosenwinkel”, laughs all round, “First time I met Kurt was in my kitchen one morning after he’d stayed over”. Wow, small world, cool, Berlin!

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