REVIEW: Max Luthert - Orbital CD launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Max Luthert. Photo credit: Rob Blackham
Max Luthert - Orbital CD launch
Pizza Express Jazz Club. 20th October 2014. Review by Sarah Chaplin)

On the whole debut album launches tend to be rather tight and self-conscious affairs, where tunes from the album are aired rather than explored, and players seem to be doing their level best to reproduce the studio ambiance - instead of enjoying the presence of a live audience. No so with this debut: young bassist and composer Max Luthert reassembled his six-strong crew to mark the arrival of his CD Orbital, in a vivid display of musicianship.

Perhaps signalling his intentions towards the British jazz scene, Luthert opened with Grand Designs, although throughout the gig he was diffidently minimal in his verbal commentary, preferring to let the music speak for itself. Which it did: Pacific Before Tiger was a big-hearted waltz-time piece featuring exciting solos from Séb Pipe on alto sax and Gareth Lockrane on flute, followed by the dreamy ballad Quiet December, played with immense control and exquisite dynamics by Duncan Eagles on tenor.

Luthert’s writing takes into account the register and timbre of each instrument at his disposal, as evidenced by Metro Moodie, a cleverly constructed tune in 7/4, where Luthert had Lockrane joined him in stating the main melody matching bass to bass flute. The first set closed with the title track, Orbital, also written in 7/4, beginning innocently enough with pianist Matt Robinson setting out a languid intro, over which the horn section laid a tight and busy tune. The bridge involved a series of off-beat harmonized horn stabs which continued into the first part of the solos and returned in the coda at the end, to allow Dave Hamblett to work his magic on drums in an epic solo. This is a hugely effective signature piece whose robust structure enables the musicians to change tack at will and free up completely.

The second set was equally subtle and well-paced, with something of a landscape theme going on. The Edgewall has the horn section playing over each other, weaving together ideas while Hamblett builds up the rhythmic energy and intensity. It feels like a tour through a mature garden where the planting is densely overgrown in places. Assam had exotic terraces of melody and counter melody going on, allowing Luthert scope to take an intricately balanced solo himself, while Moving Fields grew from a series of cymbal crashes into a solid vamp. This functioned as the bedrock for solos by Pipe and Robinson, who both veered exuberantly off-piste before Lockrane cut through on piccolo to bring the whole thing to a riveting and sparky close. Luthert seemed relieved they’d all pulled that one off so well, and followed it with the sensual Cloud on Cloud. The night ended with Luthert’s newest tune, a fast-paced extravaganza that reminded me of a Michael Giacchino piece for Pixar.

Max Luthert is thoroughly convincing - an unassuming force to be reckoned with - who has set out his stall with music of singular depth and maturity. He will prove a real asset to Michael Janisch’s flourishing Whirwind record label. To my mind Luthert is someone who will be running rings around many of his peers, and for many years to come.

LINK: Interview with Max Luthert

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