Monday, 2 May 2011

Up In NEON...

It was good to get out for some more top quality live jazz last Thursday night. This time it was Stan Sulzmann's NEON, a truly co-operative quartet (sans contrebasse) with acres of space for these supremely gifted players to weave their own webs. Almost co-led by vibes-man Jim Hart, at least in terms of its public face, the presence of Tim Giles and Kit Downes is also crucial in shaping the music's sometimes crab-like motions. Internal duos and trios hung mobile-like within tight, overarching structures. The group's improvisations were never predictable and always supportive of the overall objectives of each piece. Never cliched or trite, new life was even breathed into Monk's 'Bye-Ya', a piece which has be played so many times over the years (in a generally linear way).

Pity my short interview/profile of Stan & NEON didn't make it in time for the latest Jazz Journal, but if it's in the next edition then the chances are they'll still be on their protracted and episodic mini tour. Like many others, I'm enjoying the continuing rise of EDITION RECORDS, and readers of Jazz Journal will know that the latest Phronesis disc was my pick of the year. I've also recently given good write-ups to Neon's Catch Me and the new Marius Neset, and I'd love to do something more on Dave Stapelton's outfit in the near future.

An unfortunate quirk of timing - read on - means that a London trip clashes with the Edition Records showcase at this year's Manchester Jazz Festival. Buoyed by the highly enjoyable back-to-back gigs of last week, I rashly took the plunge and spent a small fortune on a couple of tickets for Keith Jarrett's London show in July. It's still a massive wrong/regret that to this point I've never seen Jarrett perform live, and I'm really quite glad to be putting that little niggle to bed. With Peacock and De Johnette the improvisations should reach rarefied levels, and there's always the potential for an artistic tantrum if anybody dares to cough, or even breathe. Hopefully Louise's sore throat will have cleared by then.

I'll sign off with another review from the archives...

The Moutin Reunion Quartet
Sharp Turns
Nocturne/Blujazz (NTCD 4501)

The Speech; Kuki’s Dance; Trane’s Medley; A Good Move; Time Apart; Two Hits on the N.J.T.P.; A Blue Dream; Sharp Turns.

Bonus DVD: Take It Easy; Echoing; Bird’s Medley; Surrendering; Something Like Now.

Rick Margitza (ts); Pierre de Bethmann (p, elp); Francois Moutin (b); Louis Moutin (d).
Recorded March 2007 NYC and DVD shot live in Chicago, January 2007.

Despite their relatively tender years, Parisian twins Francois and Louis Moutin have both done the rounds in jazz, playing with an illustrious roll-call of regional and international figures, from John Abercrombie to Albert Mangelsdorff. Because they’ve been in such heavy demand their paths haven’t always crossed, and this quartet, founded in 1998, was their very own musical ‘re-union’.

The group’s aim is to unite many aspects of jazz’s past with the present, and both ex-Miles Davis sideman Rick Margitza and pianist Pierrre de Bethmann have been present from the start. Although playing mainly original compositions, the tunes nevertheless fall into a fairly generic space somewhere between Atlantic and Impulse! period Coltrane. Everybody from Branford Marsalis to Tommy Smith has explored this sound over the years, and the best exponents always bring personal touches and embellishments to stand them apart from the crowd. The Moutins choose tightly-drilled fusion unisons and locked-groove vamps as their signature, and Margitza’s affinity for Coltrane via Brecker is perfect here, heard to great effect on standout tracks ‘Kuki’s Dance’ or ‘A Good Move’.

Unadulterated acoustic jazz predominates, and sometimes only the subtlest of tweaks, such as the wordless vocals in the fadeout of ‘The Speech’, offer clues to the brothers’ back-to-the-future intent. Pieces such as ‘Trane’s Medley’, a meticulously arranged walk through a selection of the master’s better-known pieces featuring just Francois and Louis, offer not a trace of ‘cross-over’. ‘Time Apart’ is a ballad framing a beautifully virtuosic bass solo from Francois, and Margitza plays an unaccompanied coda that is either breathtaking or a student’s ├ętude, depending on your standpoint. The electric piano on ‘Two Hits’ is a less subtle gesture towards a younger jazz constituency, but unlike Sleepwalker, a Japanese group who strip down and reformat the same era with more heart-on-the-sleeves, the Moutins occupy a curious limbo. Great virtuosity abounds, but sometimes the music sounds so airbrushed that barely a figurative hair is allowed to fall out of place.

Ultimately Sharp Turns has the potential to unite several generations of listener. My copy was a special limited edition dual format CD/DVD. Concert footage shot in Chicago prior to the recording of the album shows that in a live context this band really do let their hair down. Although the main album is solid enough and won’t disappoint, it adds little to the previous three. Ultimately I found the concert footage far more engaging, and fans should act quickly and get it while they can.

Fred Grand

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