Review: Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet at Omnibus Clapham SW4

Misha Mullov-Abbado at Omnibus Clapham

Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet
(Omnibus, Clapham Common Northside, SW4. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Misha Mullov-Abbado is stll studying - postgrad at the Royal Academy of Music - but his hugely promising talent as bassist and as composer is starting to get properly and more widely noticed. As it should, as it will, and as it already just has: ten days ago he won the Big Band category of the Dankworth Prize.

Last night he was out with the quintet which carries his name. Bassists are often natural leaders - a big subject, that one - and Mullov-Abbado is no exception. He has fine role models in Dave Holland, Michael Janisch and Jasper Hoiby, and yet it is surprising how rarely bassists, particularly in this country, give their names to the groups they lead. In Mullov-Abbado's case this doesn't seem like a hubristic act. He could not be more collegiate and respectful in the way he makes music and introduces his fellow players, and he didn't miss an opportunity to salute their achievements. The fact that the others value his music to the point of committing to learn the pieces speaks volumes. The result - virtually no sheet music on stage - improves communication no end, and is reminiscent of the current Dave Holland Quintet; I'm guessing that that coincidence is no accident.

Mullov-Abbado's compositions definitely deserve that attention and focus, and the work which the band are putting in. There is melodic invention, there is interest in each piece as its narrative unfolds. They played just one 'cover', Earth Wind and Fire's 'September.' I diligently checked what metre it was in: "Just 4/4...yeah, mostly" one of the band told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I was also taken with Real Eyes Realise Real Lies which somehow felt like Bill Frisell and Ralph Vaughan Williams having civilized conversation on a country walk, and also Lock, Stock and Shuttle, which sounded like Nat Adderley's Work Song giving not just brawny forearms but also the brain a work-out.

The compositions also fully exploit the ability of the musicians to hop stylistically. Drummer Scott Chapman, who has been propelling big bands since his early teens, delivers a fascinating range of textures. Trombonist Tom Green and alto saxophonist Matthew Herd are not just among the finest and fullest-toned of their cohort, they also work together all over the place, and blend their voices like brothers. The quintet provides the context for Jacob Collier on piano, genially introduced by Mullov-Abbado as "the young master" - to comp supportively and Jason Rebello-ishly, and to solo, within the chords and joyously.

There was also one song, and one uniquely poignant moment from last night which I know is gong to stay with me. It is vey rare in music for the composer to write a part for him- or herself to perform in a work where the subject matter is that performer/composer's own grief. Indeed, there may be no deeper place that a composer can bring music from than this. Classical music has one stand-out example. In the adagio mesto of Brahms' Horn Trio he introduces a folksong associated with his mother, Dort in den Weiden steht ein Haus (It's at the bottom of the first page of Brahms' manuscript). While that melody is played, soulfully, in the minor, the composer's own piano part is tacet for four bars. It is as if Brahms wanted to have a moment to listen and to grieve before he played.  Heal me on this cloudy day, written in mourning for Mullov-Abbado's father, the pre-eminent Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, also gives the composer/performer a moment to reflect before he plays. Mullov- Abbado starts the piece with a tacet in his own part, letting pairs of piano chords, then the two sustained melody voices enter. The piece was played - by a group of top string players - at Claudio Abbado's funeral in Italy. Not just the context but the also the quiet power of this music leave a lasting impression.

Omnibus in Clapham (WEBSITE) is putting on jazz on alternate Sunday nights starting at 7pm. The venue opened in November last year in  the former Clapham Old Library, a 125 year old building which was saved from developers by community action, and which now functions as a small arts centre, a couple of minutes walk from Clapham Common tube. There is a friendly bar. Omnibus has no subsidy, and is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. The largest performance space is a 90-seater studio/lecture/comedy theatre. There is also a small first floor recital/ rehearsal room. This concert took place in the the high-ceilinged ground floor corner room with huge Victorian windows on two sides. The band perform in a large bay window with buses going past behind them, but the soundproofing of the outside works very well.

Next gig is Sunday March 23rd, when Man Overboard will give the first public gig since they went to Champs Hill and recorded their second album.

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