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The word ‘contemporary’ has entered the discussions of the CJC committee in recent times. What is ‘contemporary jazz’? A test I use is to ask whether I would have heard the jazz in question ten years ago. It has nothing to do with the quality of the music or the quality or age of the musicians that play it.
What has this to do with the Christian Brewer Quintet at CJC on January 20, 2006? Simply that this magnificent young band, playing wonderful music wonderfully well, had as its main inspiration the bop era of the 1960s and many listeners could have closed their eyes at times and imagined being in a jazz club 40 years ago. The point to be made is that in those distant days bop was ‘contemporary jazz’ and was widely decried by many musicians and critics. A warning perhaps to all jazz fans to be as open-minded as they can be when listening to music that is different.
Christian Brewer on alto saxophone brought us a youngish band that was clearly excited to be playing their music. Christian himself is steeped in the bop tradition, deeply inspired by the playing of Cannonball Adderley, but has also worked with funk and reggae bands as well as widely across Europe. These ingredients, combined with his love of latin music, inspire the band - inspired by a tradition but not a slave to it. Christian’s own playing achieved heights of fluency and passion that I’d never heard in his earlier performances, qualities that drove on his colleagues. Young vibraphone player Jim Hart matched Christian’s contribution on the night – just as expected. Jim is terrifyingly able and has developed a disarming confidence that never seems to extend to arrogance. He doesn’t hog the limelight; he just naturally occupies it. His approach is predominantly attacking and rhythmic - he hits rather than caresses the instrument – but subtle too. From hearing him playing live and on record recently I can assure you that his drumming is equally wonderful –a young player to challenge Seb Rochford at last! Pianist Robin Aspland was a late deputy for the younger, very flamboyant Leon Greening, whose vast reputation continues to grow. In the context of the quality of the band’s music this change made little or no difference, however. Robin is a masterly accompanist, outstanding with singers as diverse as Tina May and Van Morrison, and his solos are thoroughly convincing if usually spare rather than extravagant. Another deputy was Mick Coady, taking the place on bass of Phil Donkin. Any apprehension I felt about the deputy – Phil is after all my favourite of the younger bassists and plays mostly with many of the top creative jazz people like Tina May, Julian Siegel, Henry Lowther, Stan Sulzmann, Gwilym Simcock, and Brigitte Beraha – was quickly dispelled by Mick’s assured and attentive playing. The band isn’t one that gives the bassist and drummer very many solo opportunities but Mick took them all with both hands, creating passages of music rather than merely performing rhythmic exercises. He will be back at CJC before long, I’m sure. Also taking excellent advantage of his solo opportunities was Tristan Mailliot on drums. Tristan’s playing behind the band’s solos and ensemble work was of the highest order – better than ever as I think I wrote on his last visit to CJC! Tristan, Mick, and Robin unfailingly provided a rock solid rhythmic support.
The music was nicely varied although Christian tended to be a little demanding in his running order:
Rather than starting with a couple of slow or mid-tempo numbers the band leapt into Chick Corea’s Bud Powell followed by The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Christian then kindly (!) explained that I’d recommended this kind of start.
The temperature and the tempo then dropped for Jobim’s If You Never Come To Me and Horace Silver’s Strollin’, both excellently played, with the highlight of the latter being Jim Hart’s solo that built beautifully, starting slowly and ending