REVIEW: Liam Noble Trio/ Mike Chillingworth Group at the Con Cellar Bar (2014 EFG LJF)

Liam Noble, Dave Whitford, Dave Wickens
Con Cellar Bar, Nov 2014. Photo by Mike Collins 

Liam Noble Trio/ Mike Chillingworth Group
(Con Cellar Bar. 21st Nov 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)

Blue Rondo a la Turk brought the curtain down and quite possibly the house too, on a dazzling set by Liam Noble’s trio on Friday, judging by whoops and cheers that reverberated round the tiny Con Cellar from the audience so packed in that the only hope of exit was by crowd surfing. Pianist Noble has an utterly distinctive voice and approach. Tunes you thought you knew, bend and distort in his hands sliding off in all directions then flexing, tantalisingly, back into a nearly recognisable form.

In Dave Whitford and Dave Wickens on bass and drums respectively, he has two co-conspirators who follow his every move. Blue Rondo started with flurries of arpeggios and jagged rhythms, veering off int strange tonalities. Then Whitford and Wickens picked up on a rhythmic figure and a wonky vamp developed before the mists cleared and the familiar racing theme kicked in. The interaction in the trio was electric and instinctive. Wickens was conjuring all manner of strange tones from the minimal kit whilst infectiously liquid grooves unfolded. On La Paloma Azul, a weird chiming sound was suddenly somehow echoed in Noble harmonisation of the affecting melody before it spiralled off into a fluid singing solo. Melody sounded like the key to this absorbing and by turns exhilarating set. No matter how far the connection was stretched through the distorting lens of the band’s imagination, it was always there at the heart.

The second set of this double header offered a delicious contrast. “These aren’t really tunes” mused Mike Chillingworth as he introduced the first piece, Brian Koo, in the set of his compositions for a septet of formidable musicians. The frontline of two tenors (Josh Arcoleo and Tom Challenger) bass clarinet (George Crowley) and alto (Chillingworth himself) conjured some amazing sounds. The ripple of notes from the four horns harmonised in close dissonant intervals echoed by Ralph Wylde’s vibes produced an unearthly ringing sound to kick things off. It had me checking there weren’t any tricky electronics under a seat somewhere. With Sam Lasserson’s bass and Jon Scott’s drums locked with the stabbing rhythms and providing a driving very hip groove, it was an arresting opening. With more closely arranged, repeating figures and rhythms providing the setting for the other pieces these certainly weren’t hummable tunes as the leader had implied, but it was an exciting set.

Early on Josh Arcoleo pulled out a burning solo bouncing off the motifs and rhythms in the theme to raise the temperature. The more moody vibe of the The Wait changed the atmosphere a bit and then Grateful Lady had a definite wonky riff over a rocky groove, still with some rasping dissonance underneath before first Chillingworth and then Challenger let rip with some energetic blowing.

 Two exciting, varied sets made for a great London Jazz Festival evening at the Con.

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