No, not so much. Both support and main band had more in common than at first blush presented here upstairs by the long running Jazz @ the Oxford in the intimate function room above the main part of this Kentish Town pub, the dichotomy a free improv / freebop combination.
Rachel Musson: marvellous multiphonics
The opener was the pick of the night for me, just: a feral blast of a free improv powder keg ignited by tenor saxophonist Rachel Musson’s multiphonics that spat, kissed, caressed, cajoled, coaxed and enchanted a crowd of her own invention from deep within hurling sound effects somehow shaped from an invisible mob fermenting discord inside her mouth, larynx-hurtling at velocity to collide with her reed. Astonishing to hear, sound images flickered into view as fibres and shards of sax sandblasted the vocalisations. It later prompted me to go back to listen to her excellent trio album Tatterdemalion.
Double bassist Olie Brice rampaged throughout, a randomising and companionable Henry Grimes-like Boswell to Musson’s Evan Parker-esque Dr Johnson careering way down on his travels beyond the bridge of his instrument for brisk forays into the tiny reluctant harmonic spaces hidden beyond to squeeze out cable whirs and tease squeals and shudders somehow, every risk rewarded in his approach. Best bit? Might sound a bit unconventional but it was when Musson stuffed a tin can into the bell of her tenor saxophone, the riot of dissonant reactions sending Brice’s fingers itch-frantic.
Dan Nicholls, l-r, George Crowley, and Sam Lasserson
A different Can, its contents landing with a ferocious plop from its presumably very organic wormery, was George Crowley’s two-tenor battling quintet Can of Worms the same band here as on their very promising self-titled record from last year.
Keyboardist Dan Nicholls took a while to truly paint it red on the Nord but when he got past the bashful diffident stage that the writing arc seemed to demand he was a boffin-like revelation whether projecting Rhodes-ian rumbles or conjuring harp-like pentatonic spikiness. Crowley, who introduced both bands and runs the Monday night session, sparred with Tom Challenger instinctively the pair fast and furious but finding time to charm on a cooingly-radical take on Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’. There was a reminder too of the much missed Richard Turner on the tune ‘Tealeaf’ and the final number was where the band came into their own on a Marc Ribot number from the guitarist’s Cubanos Postizos phase. Sam Lasserson on double bass was the standout performer of the band while Jon Scott, returning with Monocled Man later in the year, scored best when he switched to wire brushes but knew too how to ramp up the energy levels for added intensity. Stephen Graham
Front of the Oxford after dark, top
This was nothing like anything I’ve witnessed before among the hundreds of gigs that I’ve attended and written about since the 1990s. Not one but two double bassists on stage together, no microphones, no effects, the only distraction, an extra, when each of the bassists sat down in the interests of variety to accompany each other briefly on the piano.
Christian McBride, who grinned at the audacity of the task at hand, Meyer deadpanning that the two were touring in a format “without historical precedent” the sets were just about the right length and the time passed quickly enough but no, a concert featuring even two of the best bass players you could find anywhere, doesn’t quite satisfy.
The very respectful crowd liked it loads though (I spotted a few very well known bassists in the audience!) and this was the most enthusiastic I’ve sat among recently no matter how formal the surroundings are at Wigmore, a dinner-jacketed announcer welcoming the musicians to the stage – coughs must be stifled the instructions on the programme note insist.
McBride is a dazzling player and he and Meyer who is known for bluegrass and classical music including work with Chris Thile, the mandolinist who has performed at Wigmore with Brad Mehldau, swapped arco and plucked bass roles for sheer kicks and more importantly to tell a story, the contrasts in attack and mobility each style allows feeding into a fluency the two rhythm masters conjured.
Meyer in his set-up deepened his bass range for the low notes with a stick extender on his scroll and besides the extra depth facilitated his style is noticeably different to McBride’s, his sliding action and less beefy tone hugely slippery and responsive: he can go up and down octaves in a heartbeat and you can almost feel he is a step away from a hoedown or interloper at a banjo duel.
What did they play together? Well the best bits were the classic jazz standards including ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘Stella by Starlight’ the latter a delight opening the second set, and most fun was ‘FRB’ as in “forget Ray Brown” a riff on a Ray Brown initiative to render ‘FSR’ who forgot Sonny Rollins by altering the shout chorus to avoid borrowing too much of ‘Doxy’ for royalty reasons.
It takes more than guts to play a Cinderella concert like this and two Cinderellas, these fellas, went to the ball and loved it.
The exterior of Wigmore Hall, top; and above (l-r) Edgar Meyer and Christian McBride playing ‘All Blues,’ the encore piece