REVIEW: Mark Lewandowski's Waller at the Fringe Bar in Bristol.

Waller in Bristol
Photo credit:Jon Taylor
Mark Lewandowski's Waller
(Fringe Bar, Bristol. 24 May, 2017. Review by Jon Turney)

Bassist Mark Lewandowski’s Waller project has just given us a warmly received CD, recorded live at the Vortex. (Reviewed here). This Bristol date, filling the steamy back room of Bristol’s Fringe bar on the hottest day of the year, is part of a UK tour giving the rest of us the chance to hear the trio’s take on a matchless maestro.

Will Glaser is on drums tonight, in place of Paul Clarvis, and Liam Noble is subduing a slightly cranky Fender Rhodes instead of the acoustic instrument on the recording. The differences are intriguing. Waller tunes - mainly ones we all know although the leader mentions a few times that the man produced 400 compositions - cry out for a clean, emphatic bounce, and Glaser punches it out as exuberantlly as Clarvis. The drummer is obviously having a ball throughout, allowing himself a few startling detonations in the second set, as well as an extended spoons solo. Noble’s electric instrument, which he prefers to rigs that simulate an acoustic sound, doesn’t have the sparkle I associate with Waller, and that graces the CD. But he does such good things with it that one soon stops noticing. The second set opener, Martinique, with a Caribbean feel akin to Rollins’ St Thomas, sounds as if made for the Rhodes, and so does the doo-wop treatment of Let’s Pretend that There’s a Moon.

That pair show Lewandowski’s project is still developing, with tunes that don’t appear on the CD. We hear plenty that do as well: an outrageously funked up Honeysuckle Rose; Jitterbug Waltz stated then mutated appealingly in a way strongly reminiscent of Air’s early treatments of Jelly Roll Morton. The leader’s bass here even takes on a touch of the great Fred Hopkins, I fancy, just as I swear I caught hints of Dave Holland in his magisterial solo bass feature later on.

As that suggests, there are big helpings of strong improvisation, as the band stretch out mid-tour. But the way the trio relish Waller’s tunes, and the arrangements - bending and twisting familiar numbers in delightfully unexpected ways - is also a pleasure. It’s not all fun and games - Black and Blue, New Orleans march-style, is suitably funereal. But it is all deliciously well done.

This is a marvellous new take on an old master. It’s also one of the most enjoyable musical evenings of the year from three players who rise brilliantly to the challenge of refreshing music that was always intensely lovable but can now seem hackneyed. Not here. It just sounds as the best jazz does in the moment: simply the right way to play.

LINK: Further Tour Dates

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