REVIEW: Cédric Hanriot and Jason Palmer’s ‘City of Poets’ feat. Donny McCaslin at Pizza Express Jazz Club

edri Hanrio Above) and Jason Palmer 

REVIEW: Cédric Hanriot and Jason Palmer’s ‘City of Poets’ feat. Donny McCaslin
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 23rd September 2014. Review by Tom Gray)

Two of the world’s most acclaimed jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and drummer Clarence Penn, were the big-name attractions in this French-American collaboration which made its UK debut at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Monday night. The project was conceived, however, by the lesser-known emerging talents of Frenchman Cédric Hanriot on piano and the US’s Jason Palmer on trumpet.

Palmer and Hanriot co-wrote all of the music performed, inspired by science fiction author Dan Simmons, with each piece based on and named after one of Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Seven Modes of Limited Transportation’. By splicing these other-worldly scales with some mesmerizingly innovative rhythms, the compositions (which together formed The Hyperion Suite) sounded remarkably futuristic given the classic acoustic quintet line-up. They conjured a variety of moods, from the swirling impressionism of Hanriot’s ‘Third Mode’ to what Palmer described as a “space-age party vibe” on ‘First Mode’.

The lion’s share of soloing duties was taken by Palmer and McCaslin, who matched each other for daring and sure-footedness on some challenging charts with tricky-to-pin-down time signatures. Through his brawny tone and endless resources of rhythmic invention, McCaslin showed why he is considered one of the finest tenor saxophonists to have emerged since Michael Brecker. On top of his fine compositions, Palmer made a strong case as an artist deserving wider recognition with some patiently crafted, cliché-free solos and a confident, open sound.

Hanriot seemed content to play a supporting role for much of the first set, colouring the music with some thoughtful accompaniment. He stepped more into the foreground in the second set, revealing himself to be a highly accomplished pianist, evoking 60s-era Herbie Hancock during an exuberant, assured solo on ‘Seventh Mode’. Considering that Hanriot, still in his thirties, only came to the piano at the age of 21, his playing was all the more impressive.

Penn laid down immaculately tasteful and nuanced grooves, often playing at relatively hushed volumes, but eventually removed the gloves during a heavy-hitting groove-fest on ‘Fifth Mode’. He and Michael Janisch, rock-solid as ever on bass, appeared to be having plenty of fun linking together.

Both sets were recorded for Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label, and to my ears, every take was nailed first time. Apparently more critical of their own efforts, the musicians returned for two ‘second takes’ to end the gig. This turned out to be a shrewd decision, as the group appeared to have grown in confidence just over the course of the evening, their interplay even more polished. The recording promises to be another fine addition to the Whirlwind catalogue, capturing a world-class small ensemble in full flow.

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