REVIEW: Ofer Landsberg Quartet at Toulouse Lautrec (2018 Bopfest/EFG LJF)

L-R: Alex Bryson, Ofer Landsberg, Dario De Lecce, Matt Fishwick
Photo by Len Weinreich

Ofer Landsberg Quartet
(Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club. 24 November 2018. Bopfest/EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Len Weinreich)

Bebop lovers, fret not: the music is alive and kicking in Kennington, South London, thanks to Bopfest, Allison Neale and Nat Steele’s noble crusade to revive the brilliant tradition. On Saturday, we attended Ofer Landsberg’s live matinee gig.

Bebop? A devil to learn, hell to master, but once absorbed, easy to love. Quoting his mentor, veteran pianist Barry Harris, Ofer summarised the cult’s eternal dilemma: “if bebop was popular, I’d end up doing something else”.

Israeli-born Ofer, a guitarist since age seven, isn’t "doing something else". Located in New York where he teaches, he surprisingly cites pianists (Barry Harris, Bud Powell, Elmo Hope) rather than guitarists, as his influences. Accompanying him were three bebop adepts: pianist Alex Bryson, bassist Dario Di Lecce and drummer Matt Fishwick.

From the opening With A Song In My Heart, Ofer and the group started spinning whirling patterns at blistering pace. Raucous earned the exotic treatment (swaying camels swinging into 4/4) once reserved for Caravan. The talented Alex Bryson, whose fearsome technique never sounds technical, channelled Milt Buckner’s locked hands, revealing unfamiliar textures in Sophisticated Lady. Composer, Duke Ellington, would have been intrigued. Dietz and Schwartz’s sinuous Dancing In The Dark preceded a finger-busting version of George Shearing’s Conception. Dario di Lecce’s bass was never less than solid and mesmerising Matt Fishwick displayed a dexterity never less than astonishing.

Second set: a furious start with The Man I Love by the Brothers Gershwin featuring thrills aplenty. Then Ofer’s hommage to his teacher, Burgundy by Barry Harris, full of abrupt twists and prompting Bryson to contrast richly-voiced block chords with athletic keyboard runs. In a cool Indian Summer Dario Di Lecce exposed his lyrical soul. Ofer’s gymnastic fingers launched Little T at warp speed and Alex wittily inspected and reshaped a selection of venerable bebop licks. For a moment, they slowed down to ballad tempo and a handful of choruses of Tormé and Wells’ Born To Be Blue, Ofer strumming some rich, juicy chords. But not for long. In the final selection, they hurtled into Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody N’ You at breakneck speed, scattering quavers and flatted fifths to far corners of the club. Let’s hear it for Allison and Nat. Let’s hear it for bebop. And let’s hear more bebop.

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