REVIEW: Bridges feat. Seamus Blake at The Vortex

Anders Thorén
Picture from the artist's website

Bridges feat. Seamus Blake
(The Vortex, 11 September 2017. Review by Harry Greene)

Described by Peter Erskine as a ‘fresh new voice in music,’ Anders Thorén is fast becoming a highly respected drummer on the contemporary jazz scene, and his tremendous Vortex gig certainly left the audience in no doubt of this. His latest, eagerly awaited project Bridges honours his Norwegian roots, employing Oslo-based trumpeter Hayden Powell and pianist Espen Berg, as well as formidable tenor man Seamus Blake and British bassist Tim Thornton.

Showcasing the band’s compositional prowess, the gig opened with Berg’s Bridges, the catalyst which first initiated this project. Thorèn’s rumbling mallet dovetailed into a collection of ambient chords from Berg, providing the backdrop to Blake’s opening breathy statements. Bubbling up to the point of boiling over, the rhythm section grew around Blake, providing the springboard to propel his solo onto ever-increasing levels of intensity and complexity. The telepathy between pianist Berg and Thorèn was a joy to behold, constantly finding new ways to hook up and dig themselves in and out of tricky rhythmic spots. Powell’s sensitive, Kenny Wheeler-inspired flugelhorn provided a more lyrical approach, complementing Blake’s ‘knock-out’ tenor.

In amongst the rich ensemble playing, there were musical clearings in which each musician could be brought to the fore. Trust in You featured an opening solo from bassist Thornton, tackling complex passages with Christian McBride dexterity coupled to the warmth and roundness of Palle Daniellson, helping the ensemble deliver a fine representation of the ‘ECM sound’. This soon developed into a heavy, almost tangible groove, Berg dazzling with a series of manic arpeggios, squeezing every last drop out of each musical idea.

The ballad Step Song was a welcome release. Moments of close harmony between flugelhorn and tenor gave the music an almost chorale-like tone, occasionally thrown off-piste by Berg’s well-placed moments of dissonance.

A highlight of the evening was a free-time, deconstructed rendition of the Swedish popular song Dear Old Stockholm showcasing what the band could do without the constraints of tempo. Its short duration gave the piece more of a vignette quality, with Blake’s airy subtone arriving as a stark contrast to his distinctive full-bodied sound that had come beforehand. More of these quiet yet intense moments were to follow in the form of an expansive duet between Berg and Blake, with a flawless display of how deep listening between two musicians can unearth new, intriguing ideas. This opening conversation grew into a composition of epic proportions, in which Blake’s Coltrane influence became more and more evident.

Thorèn’s poignant number Carla closed the evening. With solemn, refreshingly short solos this final tune was a glassy ocean of Keith Jarrett-inspired groove, that ebbed and flowed between lyrical horn playing and folky piano inflections.

It is always a special thing to witness a band in which the synergy between the musicians catapults the music off the paper and into a constantly expanding bubble of energy. An outstanding example of how jazz can so beautifully act as a vehicle for improvisation and exploration, Bridge represented the epitome of what can be achieved between outstanding, open minded musicians at the very top of their game.

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