LJF 2016: Aziza




Super-quartet Aziza's amazing virtuosity impresses Andy Hamilton, but he's less excited by the combination of technical wizardry and lacklustre material 

Aziza is a collective or supergroup of four players who have worked together over many years in different combinations – (pictured right: saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Eric Harland, bassist Dave Holland and guitarist Lionel Loueke). The bassist has featured Potter in his various bands for two decades and has worked with Harland for one; Holland, Potter and Harland are now members of pianist Jason Moran's Overtone Quartet.

Holland released Aziza's eponymous debut on his own label and I'd guess that the compositions they played at Cadogan Hall, which weren't announced, come from that album. They involved a mix of styles, with a world-music inflection owing much to guitarist Loueke, who was born in Benin and is an adept of what's been described as a "post-modern patois".

The opener was in lock-step rhythm and proved the most exciting performance of the evening – like the other pieces, it was at least 15 minutes long and in the course of it Harland showed his beautifully subtle approach, always varying the touch and dynamics, never over-loud. It was an exhilarating opening and unfortunately the subsequent pieces didn't quite live up to it. The second piece had echoes of Sonny Rollins's calypso-style or Stan Kenton's Peanut Vendor – at first bucolic, with Potter on soprano-sax. The third was jazz-rock rather reminiscent of The Mahavishnu Orchestra, followed by a ballad.

Loueke's effects – especially his synth-type sounds – weren't always convincing and he was at his best without them. But the main problem was a common one: technical wizardry and rather lacklustre material, in this case too much of a stylistic pot-pourri with no clear identity. I'd heard The Cookers in Newcastle the evening before, and their clear stylistic identity was something that Aziza lacked, even if they didn't aim to present turn-on-a-dime pyrotechnics (pardon the mixed metaphor). Aziza features amazing players and the band is very free, loose, laid-back and funky. But despite some amazing virtuosity, their set was less than the sum of its parts.

Support was from UK band, the Elliott Galvin Trio, who featured original compositions from their new album, plus Mack The Knife in a rather ugly disguise featuring (I think) celeste and high notes on piano. This trio wasn't to my taste, I'm afraid. But these are young players and there's plenty of time for development.


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