|Charnett Moffett in Bremen 2014|
Photo Credit: Nigel Slee
Charnett Moffett solo
King's Place Hall One, November 22nd 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)
When he has everything set up to his liking, bassist Charnett Moffett stays centre stage and does a few stretches and neck twists, like a gymnast about to throw something special into a competition. It seems natural. In the bass-playing Olympics, he would walk away with the gold every time.
It is not just that he is a jaw-dropping virtuoso, although of course he is. Technique here serves deep feeling, as it should. So, for once, does technology. He plays a slimline upright, heavily amplified in the way that makes for a light action but once upon a time made super fast bass players sound as if they had hold of a bunch of rubber bands (remember all those interminable Eddie Gomez solos in the 1970s and 1980s?).
Those days are gone. Although there is not much wood in the sound, this cleverly electrified instrument projects a beautiful resonance. Add Moffett's mastery of plucking, rhythmic bow-bouncing, and thumb slapping, well as a clutch of effects pedals - echo, fuzz, even some wah-wah - and his ability to play rhythm and lead, call and response, simultaneously, and a man becomes an orchestra.
That's apparent from the off, when he opens with Caravan, long a solo feature for the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, and the opener on his recent solo CD, The Bridge. And that is the core programme for the concert. There is plenty of spontaneity here, and affable spoken intros, but these are pieces he has worked on long and lovingly, to locate the essence of each song. Eleanor Rigby becomes the saddest it has ever been. On All Blues, the beauty of the melody glows with minimal adornment. Haitian Fight Song brings Mingus's passion back to life.
Once or twice, it seems as if Moffett will use every effect on every tune, but the brilliance and variety of the performance of each of them is a fine trade off. The bass is, by turns, a giant gypsy violin, a flamenco guitar, giving forth funk flourishes or Hendrixian howls. Mostly, though, it is throwing implausibly rapid high-tone flurries against rhythm low, low down. Gary Crosby gave his multi-generation bass presentation at last year's LJF the happy title Lords of the Lower Register. Moffett is another peer of that realm, and of all the other registers the instrument can reach. And he has the advantage over the athletes. Talent like this allied to so much discipline means the performance can just go on getting better and better.
The astonishments of that bass will stay in the mind, but shouldn't squeeze out recollection of the excellent brief set beforehand from Jean Toussaint's quartet. All four players - Toussaint, Troy Miller on drums, Larry Bartley on bass and Andrew McCormack on keys - shone, but the pianist positively sparkled, especially on his own, closing composition. Real class there.
LINK: Charnett Moffett solo in Montreal July 2014