REVIEW: Andrew McCormack Trio with Mark Lockheart at Cambridge Modern Jazz

L-R: Andrew McCormack, Mark Lockheart, Sam Lasserson, James Maddren
Hidden Rooms, Cambridge, April 2015

Andrew McCormack Trio with Mark Lockheart
(Cambridge Modern Jazz, Hidden Rooms in Jesus Lane. 16th April 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

"An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it," once decreed Isaac Newton from his place of work in Cambridge, just a few streets away from last night's gig. Andrew McCormack's compositions,mostly from the 2014 album First Light (reviewed here) often have a way of starting with an assertion of calm, of staying neatly within bar-lines, it's the state of being of a steady soul. That mood, expressed at its clearest in a quiet solo introduction to Vista, is the base from which things start to happen. As the tension, the volume the aggression all rack up, there is an open invitation to all members of the group to amaze, a challenge to find unexpected ways to respond and to transcend. It is an offer which all four members of quartet were repeatedly taking up with relish last night, and to great effect.

Perhaps the best example in the first set was a solo by drummer James Maddren on the tune The Reluctant Gift. Maddren is at all times supportive, watchful, alert, responsive, but when the limelight falls on him he has that capacity to do something utterly memorable. Pushing against a steady ostinato riff from bassist Sam Lasserson, he was letting go thunderbolts, violent interjections, the kind of playing that has the other band members' eyes out on stalks, and spreads an energy field throughout the room. When Maddren produces a moment like that, it explains why he is now starting to assert his rightful place alongside other young drummers like Jonas Burgwinkel and Sylvain Darrifourcq, to form a small elite coterie at the pinnacle of European jazz.

Pianist Andrew McCormack builds his solos differently each time, but build them he certainly does. He starts simple and sparse, often with either a straightforward or a quirky right hand figure and only then brings his considerable armoury and technical facility into play, for example in a contrapuntal episode at the end of Gotham Soul which was quite remarkable.

McCormack is more often heard in the role of sideman to Kyle Eastwood or Jean Toussaint than as leader, so it was fascinating to observe how in the latter role he prefers to dominate by example and by determination rather than by right. He never over-dominates. It is as if he wants to earn the right every time to enjoy the view from on high by demonstrating that he has got to the summit through his own efforts, that he has climbed to the top by having started at the base.

Mark Lockheart really shines in this context too. His new composition A Shorter Story was an absolute gem. A long song form, it has a way of following its own logic, and yet reflecting back in on itself as it proceeds. The test of it will be when Wayne Shorter himself gets to hear it - he cannot fail to approve. Lockheart showed a very different side of his playing in a blistering series of choruses on the standard Just in Time, which had the expressive fluency of Hank Mobley or Sonny Stitt.

Bassist Sam Lasserson has a wonderful way of underlining, repeating, provoking and reinforcing the asymmetries, kinks and instabilities in McCormack's tunes, most notably on Junket. He also has ferociously fleet fingers, above all on Just in Time, where his solo had a clever insistent repeated quote from Now's The Time. 

Listeners seemed to come away from this gig energized and spiritually nourished. Cambridge Modern Jazz, now in their 42nd year, and stepping boldly forth without the cushion of funding from Cambridge City Council, do a remarkable job in their cosy and inviting subterranean venue.

18th April Vortex
24th April Stoke by Nayland, Leavenheath
8th May Riverhouse Walton


Prospect Park
Second Circle
Gotham Soul
The Reluctant Gift


A Shorter Story (Mark Lockheart)
First Light
Adagio - after Mahler
Just in Time (Jule Styne)

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