REVIEW: Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s (2017 EFG LJF)

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet in Rotterdam
Photo from artist's Facebook page/ permission pending


Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet,
Ronnie Scott’s, 13 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Jon Turney.


Full house abuzz on a Monday night at Ronnie’s for Mark Guiliana’s third visit with his Jazz (as opposed to electronic) Quartet. It’s a beautifully integrated band with most recent addition Fabian Almazan in particular displaying a vital connection with the leader’s drums.

In fact Almazan, already the fourth Cuban keyboard virtuoso to shine at this year’s LJF, is a revelation. He’s more akin to fellow new generation star David Virelles than Rubalcaba or Valdes, joining classical and free-jazz influences to a prodigious technique.

He’s also able to caress the simplest piano figures one moment, or build an adventurous, barnstorming, solo the next. It’s a quality the whole band share. This quartet are collective masters of dynamics, none more so than the complete modern drummer who brought them together. Guiliana can keep a deep groove going with the lightest of touches at an impossibly slow tempo, or let loose a solo that evokes every great drummer from Elvin Jones to Tony Williams to Roy Haynes.

Mainly, though, he’s working with the others, colouring their contributions from a percussive palette that draws on rock, dance beats and electronica as well as the jazz greats. There’s an enormous amount to appreciate in his live work, but a simple thing I notice is that his broader study allows him to draw on a huge vocabulary of unexpected accents, while always maintaining impeccable jazz time. That’s vital when his bandmates are building a solo, and energising all the time.

Tonight’s sets were mainly drawn from the quartet’s new CD, their second, and the first set emphasised the slower, light-touch side of the band. The four-note bass figure from Chris Morrissey that opens the title track, Jersey, falls into a spellbound silence in the club before Jason Rigby’s tenor sax joins in for a smoky, ruminative improvisation, Guiliana commenting with finger-taps on the skins. The even s-l-o-w-e-r September brings out Rigby’s Coltrane influence strongly, the theme sounding starkly against the backdrop of bowed bass and rippling piano.

The second set let loose more pyrotechnics, with dazzling playing, together and solo, from all four. The improvisational power on show here went well beyond what is captured on the CD, with long excursions from sax and piano, buoyed by rising tides of percussion. Guiliana’s own solo put me in mind of Max Roach as much as the influences he more often cites, building rudiments into a towering construction that had drummers to my left and right shaking their heads in wonder.

Then a return to reined-in playing again for the closer, Bowie’s Where Are We Now? Re-worked as a threnody for the composer. And a reminder that this band’s power is, if anything, more telling when veiled. There was a fine encore at the ready, but as on the recording this tune felt like the perfect way to end the arc of the set.

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