The first set of the Underground’s return to Ronnie’s was gritty improvising of the highest order by one of the greatest saxophonists alive in his prime and the band’s the thing.
The flavour was metrically advanced freebop, by times funky and tender often dizzyingly uptempo particularly in the early forays. With Chris Potter, the former Dave Holland, Pat Metheny and Steely Dan sideman, who switched from tenor saxophone to flute on ‘Zea’, were the mighty bluesician Adam Rogers on electric guitar; the big fingered baseball cap wearing London born New Yorker Fima Ephron a Rogers playing partner on his 2017 album Dice on a white bass guitar; and Dan Weiss on drums, his absorbing solo in the latter part of the approximately 60-minute set splashing the cymbals from the heat of the anvil to the spa of lapping wave.
Tunes back-announced by the quietly spoken side hair parted simply dressed Potter – who left the stage to disappear backstage when his three colleagues were getting their thang on simmeringly 20 minutes or so in – two long numbers on and which were ‘Train’ (like ‘Zea’ more about which in a mo from 2007’s Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard) and ‘Time’s Arrow’ (from 2009 album Ultrahang) and to keep distracting words to a minimum tidily then forward announced before the extraordinary ‘Zea’ utilising a captured live-recorded just created flute figure that the technology allowed Potter to play over on tenor, and ‘Tweet’ (“l’ll have to rename it,” the Chicago born 47-year-old joked) – the set burnt on the camphor of the night.
Upstairs in Ronnie’s bar as the second set downstairs got under way, Deelee Dubé, (above, centre in the photograph and in a promotional video for her upcoming much anticipated release) sang ‘Sassy’s Blues’ while on double bass “Level” Neville Malcolm behind her, beating like thunder on China Moses’ Nightintales released in 2017, was warm and listening as Alex Hutton on the upright piano locked hands and broke loose to George Shearing’s ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ and the evergreen, wise, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, among their standards choices. Stephen Graham
Chris Potter’s Underground continue tonight. Streaming, live.
Siren call: Top from left-to-right, Fima Ephron, Chris Potter, Dan Weiss and Adam Rogers. Photo: courtesy Transient Life/Steven Cropper. [updated, corrected, and with additional links added 14/03/18] Ronnie Scott’s pic Frith Street exterior, above middle, and upstairs bar interior performance shot, marlbank.
For the William Blake quote cited above, and a further thought inspiringly erudite discussion, see the www.faena.com article. Of music and in all artistry beyond Robert Wyatt is a Blake for us today and stands on the shoulders of giants. Biography reviewed.
“If I could only be/like I’ve always wanted,” the beginning of ‘Cashback’ on The Cherry Thing is not so much an I-could-have-been-a-contender sort of line, but a hint of a reawakening, which the unlikely collaboration between Neneh Cherry and The Thing turns out to be.
Recorded in London around the time of The Thing’s storming short residency at the Vortex in November 2010, the angry ‘Cashback’ has a punk intensity you don’t hear any more.
With the deep, aggressive double bass of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten opening up the album and a sound that makes some bassists sound positively puny by comparison, it’s a platform for Cherry, absent from the high profile music scene of late, although in January she guested at a jazz benefit for the under threat Doncaster Youth Jazz Association at Ronnie Scott’s, singing ‘Think Twice’ with Groove Armada. That night she came on late and put in a strong performance, before later strolling casually outside, to chat in Swedish to a pal on the pavement outside the club while having a smoke as Soho began to buzz in the midnight hour.
Swedish/Norwegian band The Thing (pictured with Cherry, right) have a fearsome reputation, and are one of the most stimulating free jazz and improv jazz bands around, with a capacity for turning even the most ardently hostile into fervant admirers. They join the dots between often diametrically opposed musics, with the energy of the best rock bands you’ll ever see but with jazz chops to burn.
Here they are pretty restrained by their own standards, although Mats Gustafsson opens up periodically with his straining orgasmic lines towards the end of ‘Cashback’ and in a great run on his own tune ‘Sudden Moment’, a sign that this is no sell out album. Paal Nilssen-Love at the kit, think Rashied Ali-meets-Keith Moon, as usual takes no prisoners.
With The Thing Cherry uses Gustafsson’s baritone sax work particularly as a sturdy crutch in the opening tracks especially when she gets on to Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ the stand out of the album.
Allegedly the first band ever to use the word ‘punk’, Suicide’s cult appeal will help this album along although most old jazzers will be indulgently mystified by their appeal. The interpretation is a breath of fresh air, woozy, liable to inspire at a guess a fair amount of ragged dancing in certain clubs, injecting the momentum of free jazz into a throw away art-punk anthem.
Cherry’s laidback but at times emotive vocals make the material convincing and even hard hitting. Martina Topley-Bird’s ‘Too Tough To Die’, ‘Sudden Moment’, another stand out, hip hopper MF Doom’s ‘Accordion’, Don Cherry’s ‘Golden Heart’, a sprawling epic, The Stooges’ appealingly stodgy ‘Dirt’, and Ornette’s ‘What Reason’ make this a fascinating collision of punk, free jazz and in the case of Topley-Bird a sideways nod to the Bristol of Tricky and Massive Attack which Cherry was a part of back in the day.
– Stephen Graham
The Cherry Thing has just been released by Smalltown Supersound. Neneh Cherry and The Thing play Village Underground, London, on 15 July. The video of ‘Dream Baby Dream’ is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do9b9jpIyV8