They capture the vivacity of the original composition but layer it with the blend of prog rock, free jazz, astral travelling and energy that, live, the band always exudes.
Martin Archer: tenor saxophone, saxello, melodica, electronics; Charlotte Keefe: trumpet, flugelhorn; Pat Thomas: piano, keyboards, electronics; Orphy Robinson: xylosynth; Chris Sharkey: guitar, electronics; Anton Hunter: guitar, electronics; Dave Sturt: bass guitar, electronics; Adam Fairclough: drums.
Recorded on 29th September 2022 by John Martindale at Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music (CD 3) and on 26th October 2022 by Chris Penty at a Café Oto, London (CDs 1 and 2).
In addition to the composed tunes, there are pieces title ‘drums introduction’, or ‘piano introduction’. The opening track, ‘Mauger Hay’ could have been called melodica introduction with its mournful introduction of the theme were it not for the rumbling bass that segues into ‘Give me back some truth’.
Here, Archer is on ebullient form with his tenor saxophone muscling the other musicians into line. The tune slows to blend into ‘The dancer and the spark’, give Thomas space to place his trademark rumbling arpeggios carefully into the mix. The first of the drum introductions urgently usher in the ensemble into the ‘Blade juggler’ building to full, free onslaught.
Here giving Robinson and Keefe space to relish the dynamics of the piece and find individual ways of interpreting this. The trumpet solo continues into ‘Lazy Susan’ but the rhythm section performs a volte face from prog workout to sauntering skank.
Pat Thomas lyrical piano solo leads into a Randy Weston composition ‘African Village / Bedford Stuyvesant’, from the classic ‘Blues to Africa’ release and the only piece not written by the band members. On this piece, the octet seem to swell in numbers and build to a huge orchestra.
They capture the vivacity of the original composition but layer it with the blend of prog rock, free jazz, astral travelling and energy that, live, the band always exudes. It was at the end of this piece that the audience (who had either been edited out of the recording or were captivated by the playing) burst into well-earned applause.
As if one live set was not enough, the Café Oto set is paired. The Café Oto gig ends with ‘Fire on 88th’, Thomas, Robinson and Archer are all on sterling form and the piece ends in a riot of sound before the audience responds warmly.
In the Newcastle set, the same pieces are played in a different order. And to a more raucous audience which drives the band to up the tempo a little and play more fiercely in their solos. For instance, Thomas’ closing coda to ‘African Village / Bedford Stuyvesant’ which closes the show has his hallmark pummelled chords and scuttling arpeggios bursting from the piano before the ensemble rejoin with the theme.
I envy the audiences at either gig the opportunity to catch the dynamism of the playing of the band and the tightness of their rhythms and passion of their improvisations. Two great gigs captured on a single album and one that will find its way into my best of the year list with ease.