LJF 2016: Neset, Allen and MCA Power Trio

Three concerts, each featuring a top saxophone stylist broadly from a Rollins/Coltrane base, impress Bob Weir with their energy, virtuosity and creativity

These concerts offered the opportunity to compare three of the best current saxophone stylists. All are broadly from a Rollins/Coltrane base but they take distinctively different paths. Marius Neset incorporates classical and Scandi-folk influences, J D Allen is rooted in the blues and David Murray (with the MCA Power Trio) adds elements of gospel and free jazz to the mix.

On this occasion at the LSO St Luke's, the most original approach came from Neset (pictured right). He performed all the music from his acclaimed CD, Slowmelt, in the company of his regular trio (Ivo Neame piano, Petter Eldh bass, Anton Eger drums) and the London Sinfonietta. His composer/arranger talents are known from previous albums but Snowmelt is his most ambitious and successful work to date and this was its concert première.

The centrepiece, the seven-part
Arches Of Nature, is a magnificent achievement flawlessly performed by both groups in perfect harmony and with thrilling solos from the leader. The Storm Is Over has a voluptuous melody tinged with melancholy and raised to the highest level by the orchestra's shimmering strings. There was also a solo tenor sax feature on Old Poison to display Neset's remarkable technique and a new arrangement for the quartet of an earlier piece - the fast, repetitive groove of Birds. Math Of Mars and Snowmelt with the Sinfonietta completed a truly outstanding concert.

Others use blues as a separate part of their musical palette, but J D Allen (pictured left) has the blues at the core of everything he plays, even when caressing the melody of a standard like Stardust. Otherwise, his programme at the Pizza Express in Soho was taken from his new album, Americana: Musings On Jazz And The Blues, backed superbly by his regular bassist and drummer.

He showed prodigious energy, with no breaks for announcements, on very long solos in a kind of mid-period Coltrane style to explore the full range of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic possibilities of attractive boppish lines (mostly composed by the leader).

The MCA Power Trio (pictured right) is a supergroup comprising David Murray (ts, bcl), Geri Allen (p) and Terri Lyne Carrington (d). All contributed material and had equal solo space. Murray was his usual magisterial self, whether free and Ayler-ish on Allen's Geri Red, sensitively evoking Ben Webster on the pretty folk song Margaret Allen or strolling inventively through the relaxed groove of Power Trio. Allen is always interesting with her sprightly turn of phrase and creative soloing. Carrington gave excellent support in the ensemble passages but her overlong solos tended to be too repetitive. The sound, normally so good in the impressive Cadogan Hall, was a little unbalanced with Allen's piano sometimes overwhelmed by loud drumming. In essence, Murray can do it all and he never allowed his virtuosity to get in the way of what was a truly exciting and memorable performance.

A London-based female septet, Nerija, opened for the Power Trio and acquitted themselves impressively. They played an intriguing blend of Blakey Messengers with input from hip-hop, urban beats, Afrobeat and highlife. They are apparently out of the Gary Crosby Tomorrow's Warriors school and have the promise of a bright future.

Photos by Marcin Pulawski

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