Within the benevolent womb of sound as we sat at small tables illuminated by little tea lights, above us balloon-like globes that looked like water-filled moons, the two players, Kristian Borring on his bespoke Victor Baker-designed guitar, and Bruno Heinen perched at a simple upright piano, were playing material largely drawn from their new album on Babel, Postcard to Bill Evans.
With the lights so low the gleam of camera phones was largely, and perhaps refreshingly, absent as everything was so dark as to prevent any wannabe David Baileys in the room pick up anything but the faintest of outlines, the shining was all in the playing. Heinen – familiar from his very different Stockhausen project Tierkreis from two years ago – and Borring whose impressionistic Urban Novel came out to appreciative murmurs last year, found themselves in intimate surroundings at this Kingsland Road restaurant wine-bar, an adjective Heinen himself chose when he spoke quietly to the audience talking briefly as he courteously called out the names of the tunes.
Deliberately avoiding any of the repertoire on Bill Evans’ two albums with Jim Hall, Undercurrent and Intermodulation made four years apart in the 1960s, the shadow of both albums nonetheless loomed large here certainly in the glistening acoustic ping of after notes, the succinctness of chordal empathy, the power of concentration and bliss of release.
Bruno Heinen above left with Kristian Borring
Borring, jacketed in the first half, running his long fingers up and down the neck of the guitar fashioning arches, completing complicated scrunching and sliding friction as he deftly delivered a ready stream of knowing progressions occasionally octave-leaping like Wes Montgomery, the lead notes of each player developed independent lines parallel in their instincts via modal counterpoint.
Heinen, in the more bop-derived sections, drew out the Bud Powell side of Evans’ playing but mainly emphasised the sheer lyricism of the style and in-the-moment reaction to his playing partner’s hints and ideas, the conversational aspect of their interplay a factor.
Tunes in the first set included ‘Time Remembered’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ (the pair mixing standards that Evans played as well as the pianist’s own compositions).
The ghost in the room, again not played like the Hall-Evans material, was ‘Blue in Green’ from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, but again it was the overall atmosphere rather than ticking off and trotting through headline pieces that counted. The version of Jimmy Rowles’ powerfully invasive ballad ‘The Peacocks’ was a big highlight, waftingly gentle and yet full of emotion in the sweep of the interpretation.
Sitting in a venue named after a classic Thelonious Monk album and hearing the pair late-on play a scurrying version of Monk’s ‘Bemsha Swing’, a tune that appeared on the 1957 Riverside album, guitar taking the melody first, seemed appropriate and a match in a highly elegant evening of Evansiana that journeyed to the heart of modern jazz, the pulse of it all still turning over and beating strong and sure.
Less of a battle of the bands this year at the Proms, two big bands on the same stage remains a highly unusual sight.
More a celebration than a competition – as the cool, calm and collected host Clare Teal put it – and quite a production, the arrangements for the Winston Rollins and Guy Barker big bands allowed plenty of room to cross-fertilise every so often breaking ranks for extra spontaneity at this well attended prom, broadcast live on Radio 3 last night, the energy of each band prompting the other on.
Rollins, more usually heard in the Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, with his trombone to hand when he wasn’t conducting, was to the right hand side of the stage while Barker, similarly with his trumpet on call at the other, each of the swinging bands identified by the WRs and GBs emblazoned on their music stands and on the drum heads.
Teal was a graceful presence as she sketched the birth of the big bands, sang like Peggy Lee, and kept a friendly eye on the technicians beavering about moving microphone and music stands as silently as lambs, telling the stories and lore of the big band era.
Jamie Davis provided a highlight on ‘Prisoner of Love’ in the more bop-flavoured Billy Eckstine section, the close vocal harmony group christened the “Promunards” taking the role of the MelTones at one stage later, a little foggier suitably enough, and the classy Elaine Delmar delivered a well judged with-strings Billie Holiday tribute on ‘Lover Man’. Clarke Peters who led the audience infectiously on ‘Minnie the Moocher’ and tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste fresh from his latest A Love Supreme show were other guests. The bands were supplemented in the second half by a big strings section and the vibes of the Blue Flames’ Anthony Kerr.
Standout soloists included Alan Barnes on clarinet and the skilled high trumpet bravura and repartee (in a comedy spot with Clare Teal) of Mike Lovatt; while the small group break-out section featuring Ronnie’s musical director pianist James Pearson (as Teddy Wilson, Teal told us) also had plenty of appeal. A little less successful was the slightly laboured feel of the script but this was made up for by some inspired musical choices. And for today’s generation of new listeners lesser-known 1930s numbers such as the Jimmie Lunceford wow ‘White Heat’ delivered at breakneck pace and even the silky Casa Loma Orchestra-derived ‘Smoke Rings’ were respectively full of life and feeling.
‘Sing Sing Sing’ at the end, bringing the singer soloists and Promunards together, and letting the two big bands romp away proved popular with the audience as had earlier Peters’ wry take on ‘Minnie the Moocher’. Empirical’s Shaney Forbes and Matt Skelton, the two drummers, swung hard, and even on the Glenn Miller numbers (again a big hit with the audience) kept it neat and precise on ‘In the Mood.’
Broadcast on BBC Four tv on 28 August. A clip of Jamie Davis, who plays Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho tonight and tomorrow, singing the Gaskill, Robin & Columbo Eckstine hit ‘Prisoner of Love’ top; and the stage all set in the Albert Hall above