Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Alec Harper quartet, Oxford Tavern, London ***

From life after Lockdown ready at the soul station to time travel to Eddie ''Lockjaw'' Davis, Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley - what goes around at a night of titanic tenor. With the heatwave about to break and the quiet storm of rain pattering on …

Published: 16 Aug 2022. Updated: 19 months.

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From life after Lockdown ready at the soul station to time travel to Eddie ''Lockjaw'' Davis, Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobley - what goes around at a night of titanic tenor.

With the heatwave about to break and the quiet storm of rain pattering on the window panes of the upstairs room of Kentish Town's Oxford Tavern tenor saxophonist Alex Harper was itching to play 'Singin' in the Rain' he joked. But soon he obliged quoting from the classic song readily enough.

The Tom Misch player who is in residence in Soho's Louche bar on a weekly basis was in fine company here with guitarist Nick Costley-White, bassist Tom Farmer known for his work with Empirical (and who will record again with that seminal band in December news that we got direct from the horse's mouth before the gig) and drummer Will Cleasby. Highlights included the quartet's knowing treatment of Billy Strayhorn's 'Chelsea Bridge' in the first of the two sets where Harper's tonal colours lifted our interest to new heights.

Later in the second half Bobby Hutcherson's 'Little B's Poem' and towards the end a rollicking version of Billy Eckstine and Gerald Valentine's 'Second Balcony Jump' in its Eddie ''Lockjaw'' Davis and Johnny Griffin rendering were further highlights.

The Lockjaw and Little Giant connection was a firm theme of the evening and encompassed a lively treatment of Dizzy Gillespie classic 'Woody 'n' You'. Playing the rarely heard live Thelonious Monk composition 'Introspection' (1947) for the first time was less successful. But Farmer, a master at work, found the harmonic code to the puzzle most to turn the key in the lock and open the door into the complexity of the piece.

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Harper is a very expressive player who can communicate retro solos at ease. He was good on Hank Mobley's 'Soul Station' a name the band had considered taking as their own moniker. Cleasby was excellent throughout egging the players on and adding ornate touches whether silent as a lamb or boisterous as a cockerel. Catch Harper down on Greek Street with the Louche Players (it's Ferg Ireland on bass usually) tomorrow night. SG

Will Cleasby, Tom Farmer, Alec Harper, Nick Costley White at the Oxford Tavern. Photo: marlbank

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Enrico Rava and Fred Hersch, The Song Is You, ECM *****

Because there is a lot of vivid poetry to this album certainly The Song Is You counts as one of the best of 22 so far. It never gets caught in any longueurs difficult surely given the stateliness of the material. The duo do not need to shout to be …

Published: 15 Aug 2022. Updated: 22 months.

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2746_Rava Hersch PF2

Because there is a lot of vivid poetry to this album certainly The Song Is You counts as one of the best of 22 so far. It never gets caught in any longueurs difficult surely given the stateliness of the material. The duo do not need to shout to be heard.

An easy highlight is the new version of Fred Hersch's 'Child's Song' with its open almost South African township harmonic flavour which has new standard if it isn't already one written all over it. A gently lapping motion finds Enrico Rava showing his mastery of a held note and that underlines how the simple can sound so complex and still human reminiscent of the way the much missed Tomasz Stańko would also do a lot with a small number of notes it seems.

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Hersch, 66, on his own tune not so much comps as oversees, expectant as Rava delivers his interpretation of the melodic notes and adds his bespoke grace notes and unique accentuation.

The piano master hasn't until now recorded for ECM before in his substantial discography while Italian master Rava, 83 later this month, is by contrast part of the fabric of the German label. Also illuminated by the duo's beautiful take on the Jobim classic also known as 'Portrait in Black and White' and 'Zingaro' deriving from 1967's A Certain Mr Jobim. Produced by Manfred Eicher the album also includes a free improvisation (again the Stańko comparison bears witness) and Rava's 1996 Label Bleu Noir delicately inuring piece 'The Trial' is another selection that matters.

An album that is a meeting place for the European avant-garde that Rava has for many years been part of and the American tradition of bop, standards and ballads that is at the centre of the Hersch universe where he has always altered the optics to make his choices so modernistic while still remaining true to the heart of the matter. The pair inhabit a mysterious mansion in the sky that is more transcendentally Manderley than Gatsby and The Song Is You may stand as a synecdoche for jazz in 2022 given how introspective a great deal of new music is this year as we emerged from Lockdown. What joy. What enlightenment. SG

Out on 9 September

Enrico Rava and Fred Hersch top. Photo: Luciano Rossetti/ECM