REVIEW: Ethan and the British Composers at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Ethan Iverson at Kings Place
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Ethan Iverson Residency (Part 2), Ethan and the British Composers
(Kings Place, 17 November 2018. Review by Mike Collins)


“You sound like where you come from.” Self-declared anglophile Ethan Iverson summed up the project for the evening, the second gig of his three-day residency at Kings Place: To unearth some of the gems of the last 50-odd years of jazz from this side of the Atlantic, hold it up the light, maybe figure out what made it British jazz and, of course, make music.

The set covered an enormous range from Stan Tracey’s Rainbow At The Five Mile Road – “Monk meets the swinging 60s,” was the quip – taking in John Surman’s Doxology – “a chorale!” declared Iverson – touching down on a Courtney Pine piece, a Nikki Iles composition, Joe Harriott and Gordon Beck all honoured before the band finished with Mike Gibbs’ And On the Third Day.

Ask any number of people to make their selections to represent British Jazz and they’d be equally distinctive and personal no doubt. Doing the impossible and selecting what to play was Iverson’s pleasure however, and he’d recruited a formidable team to help with the interpretation (and explanations). One of the distinctively British threads he’d discerned in the music, was the distant thud of a rock beat, melded with the cadences of jazz. Who better to recruit then, than founder members of Acoustic Ladyland, sax man Pete Wareham, Tom Herbert on bass, and drummer Seb Rochford. Laura Jurd on trumpet, who’s shown she can cover the waterfront in integrating inspirations into her music, completed the line-up. An added inspiration was inviting Richard Williams, writer, journalist, arguably our most insightful chronicler of all music over the period, to talk with Iverson about each writer before playing their tune.

The playing gathered momentum as the set progressed. Nikki Iles’ Fly’s Dilemna is built round an irresistible, propulsive figure that had Rochford and Herbert egging Wareham on as he locked into the pulse with squealing and fluttering lines. Joe Harriott’s Calypso Sketches had the loosely bound freedom of an Ornette Coleman theme, punctuated by locked tight gusts of Caribbean flavoured lines from sax and trumpet. As Wareham and Jurd cut loose, the air crackled. It set them up to close the set with the steadily thickening intensity of the Gibbs piece, chanting lines and shifting harmony over a steady rocky beat.

This was an engaging, illuminating swoop through some of the strata of what it might mean to sound like where we come from. The talking added insghtful colour and perspective. Perhaps, with it interspersed between every tune, it cramped the style of the band to start with, but there was no stopping the fuse burning and they caught fire. Back for an encore, they played British writer Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven to send us all out with a spring in the step.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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