Jim Hart Trio (Jim Hart vibes, Michael Janisch, bass, DaveSmith drums) with Ralph Alessi -trumpet
(Grey Horse, Kingston, July 19th 2010)
Jim Hart made a verbal slip-up when he presented the band after their first number: “It brings me very great pressure to introduce…”
He corrected himself immediately, smiled. apologised. "I meant pleasure." As Hart made clear in a great piece he wrote for us last week, he has been looking forward to this collaboration between his trio and Ralph Alessi. But maybe there was also a grain of truth in what he had said. Because this was the first gig of a nationwide tour, and they had only met Alessi for the first time that afternoon to rehearse. And also because Ralph Alessi’s compositions, such as Dog Waking which they had just opened the gig, are anything but simple.
But by the end of the set, there was a very strong sense of a substantial journey already having been travelled. The smiles were back. This collaboration between an American master and three players from London from a younger generation has legs, and can be thoroughly recommended.
Both Ralph Alessi 's father and his grandfather were orchestral trumpeters of great distinction. He has a - possibly inherited- unflappably calm platform demeanour. His stock-in-trade when he plays is to make the angularities and asymmetries of complex tunes sound natural, to assert their logic, to lead. There is always the sense of a direction of travel. His is an often understated, but always compelling and impressive voice. And his trumpet sound is full, focussed and a constant pleasure to hear.
There can be no more attentive and watchful drummer in the world than Dave Smith. For much of the time he had his head at 90 degrees from true, his gaze locked in on Mike Janisch’s hands. He was also keeping away from the higher frequencies, limiting his tonal palette. Janisch was on great form, his tuning as ever as good as any in the business, the tone warm and full, the ideas flowing. Jim Hart was fascinating to watch and to hear. As accompanist to Alessi he was a busy presence embellishing, encasing, showcasing, supporting, Alessi's strongly focussed trumpet line. As soloist he was reflecting, commenting, responding both to his own ideas and to those around him.
As the tour develops the free, open sections at the end of Alessi tunes such as Four Finger Grip, which were visited briefly last night, will give more chances for the band to really stretch out. Alessi may at his most creative in the role of a Pied Piper/ Duke of York/Godfather in these free forms. Hart, Janisch and Smith are completely up for the role of accomplices, and the results in the rest of the week, starting tonight in Cardiff, are going be spectacular.
A moment which stood out for me was a remarkable, completely free link passage from Jim Hart's hushed elegy "For JD" written earlier this year as a homage to John Dankworth, to Thelonious Monk's jaunty Bye-Ya. For this improvised journey from sombre hues to bright colours, Alessi was accompanied by Dave Smith, alert to everything. Memorable.
So , get down to the Pizza Express tomorrow Wednesday, and Jez/Peggy/Robert, if you are reading this, get the diary and give the Jazz on 3 microphones an extra outing. You know you want to.
I also caught the beginning of a brief set from “Partikel” (Duncan Eagles saxophone, Max Luthert bass, Eric Ford drums) It is a while since I heard Duncan Eagles play. I had the sense that he has at the same time now completely absorbed the model of his teacher at Trinity Russell Van Den Berg, but also moved away from it and developed his own clear voice. Eric Ford is a higly creative and inventive drummer, little known because he lived for a few years in Paris. He was interesting to contrast with Dave Smith. The context - a stable band versus a new encounter - could not have been more different, but Ford plays much more solistically. He made an instant strong impression last night.
Photo Credit: Monique Baan