McCormack / Yarde Duo, Elysian String Quartet plus Jean Toussaint Quartet at the Gateshead Jazz Festival.

The Sage Gateshead from the Tyne (Wiki/ Creative Commons) 

McCormack and Yarde Duo with Elysian String Quartet / Jean Toussaint Quartet (Gateshead International Jazz Festival. 5thApril 2014. Review by Rob Edgar)

The ability to be concise whilst saying all you need to say is a tough nut to crack, but the spirit of this has found its way to a new group of compositions by pianist Andrew McCormack and saxophonist Jason Yarde featuring the Elysian Quartet.

Cup of Tea - the opener – set the tone: staccato stabs in triple time were undermined by duplet rhythms appearing elsewhere. Ob's First Adventure (spelling?) was a lesson in how to be succinct. It grew from a kernal of repeated minor thirds in the piano into a vast canvas of sound with every line relating back to the first.

A highlight of the set was Pasties (named by the audience). It offered an insight into the dynamic of the group. The audience called out two random selections of 5 notes each, and the idea was for the band to move between them during the course of the piece. It really showed the Elysians to be extraordinarily sensitive musicians: a short phrase by Yarde would be immediately picked up and extemporised, there was a wonderful moment when the two sets of notes collided before the transition was heard fully and there was a brief clash before the music came out the other side.

The writing was superbly idiomatic, much attention has clearly been paid by the duo to counterpoint, register, and technique, and they have worked through the restrictions finding freedom in restraint.

The next set was two hours of uninterrupted bliss as the Jean Toussaint Quartet took the stage. Their energy was was taken to a new direction with Shane Forbes replacing regular drummer Troy Miller. McCormack and Forbes are very similar in their approaches: both seem to have an inexhaustible well of ideas that absolutely have to be played as soon as they're conceived. They remind me of a water-heater that constantly needs to release its built up pressure to avoid disaster.

Their chemistry was most apparent in My Dear Ruby, an affectionate tribute to Toussaint's daughter. The extremely laid-back feel on the CD was there in the beginning but quickly gave way to some intense free-rhythm playing.

Mulgrew was where Toussaint himself really shone. It was played as a triptych which built and built from the theme. There was some frantic and forceful playing from McCormack as his fingers slithered up and down the keyboard closely followed by Forbes' terrifyingly quick percussion. Toussaint's saxophone soared above the chaos; he played mostly long, wistful melodies; a searing lament for the loss of his colleague Mulgrew Miller last year. Bassist Larry Bartley deserves a medal for his ability to keep the group firmly anchored throughout all that was going on around him.

See also our podcast interview with Jean Toussaint about this repertoire

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