REVIEW: Kirk Lightsey/ Paul Zauner Quintet at the Vortex

Kirk Kightsey at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Kirk Lightsey /Paul Zauner Quintet
(Vortex, 20 August 2015; night 2 of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Pianist Kirk Lightsey and trombonist Paul Zauner combine mastery of their instruments with a sensitive, light touch that has formed the basis of their collaborations for nearly thirty years since they first shared billing on an early tour of Zauner's enduring Blue Brass group.

Lightsey, now based in Paris, grew up and cut his teeth in Detroit with its rich tradition of jazz piano, boasting such luminaries as Hank Jones, Sir Roland Hanna and Tommy Flanagan, and has been pianist of choice for many of the greats including Dexter Gordon, with whom he toured for four years, and Chet Baker, with whom he first played in the mid-60s.

Zauner is not only the leader of the very fine quartet which he brought to the Vortex, but also organiser of the unique INNtöne Festival which takes place on his pig farm in Austria and Director of the PAO label which forges some unexpected links between European and American jazz.

Trombonist Paul Zauner
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

On tenor sax, Klemens Pliem's unmistakable respect for Coltrane's legacy shaped the clarity of his dynamic and demanding contributions in both the standards in their repertoire and Lightsey's compositions, a balanced foil to Zauner's softly blended tonal range which took its cues from Bob Brookmeyer, spiced with blasts of Albert Mangelsdorff's spiky robustness. Dusan Novakov also carried the mantle of the bright, soft touch approach with impeccable timing on percussion and an unceasing alertness to every nuance of his co-musicans, traits that carried through to Wolfram Derschmidt's low-key, yet highly expressive bass work.

Lightsey grinned with delight as the quintet found the space to allow full voice to his own subtly constructed approach to the keyboard. What was so special was the way that he created spaces while he built up structures which, in an understated way, just leaned away from the predictable as he picked over the melodic routes with care, restraint and inspiration.

Ellington's Creole Love Call with its elastic, rubbery texture and Mood Indigo's slinky melancholy contrasted with the primal momentum of Santamaria's Afro Blue, while there was a suggestion of the quirky delicacy of Paul Klee's painting, The Twittering Machine, in the group's fragile interplay in Lightsey's Heaven Dance, following his beautifully articulated short solo piece, Kiwi. And a one-off towards the end - an extended flute duet shared by Lightsey and Pliem on Lightsey's Habiba, flickering and weaving hypnotically and eventually breaking down into a relaxed quintet groove, prefacing a fiercely demanded encore, a strong blues before the band headed for their overnight flight to Austria.

Kirk Lightsey, piano
Klemens Pliem, tenor sax
Paul Zauner, trombone
Wolfram Derschmidt, bass
Dusan Novakov, drums


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