Review: Jakob Bro Trio at the Vortex

Michael Tucker finds drummer Jon Christensen of the Jakob Bro Trio to be "a poet of tone and texture" at the Vortex, London

Having enjoyed seeing drummer Manu Katché reproduce the funk-friendly, driving yet finely patterned tones and textures of his recent, eponymously titled ECM quartet release at Ronnie Scott’s in January, this was an unmissable chance to catch another (very different) top-drawer drummer from the ECM stable: the Norwegian Jon Christensen (pictured) – who, according to Katché, is not so much a drummer as a poet of tone and texture, sound, space and colour. In the summer of 2012 Danish guitarist Bro hooked up with Christensen and American bassist Thomas Morgan, currently also featured in Tomasz Stanko’s American quartet. Following a few promising gigs last year, this London outing was the second night of a short European tour, with an ECM recording envisaged later this year.

I arrived in time to catch the last couple of numbers from the support band, the Partikel Trio led by saxophonist Duncan Eagles, with Max Luthert (bass) and Eric Ford (drums). This was engagingly crafted, lucid music: coolly linear, the airy yet swinging three-way melodies were cleanly structured yet open to many an energising shift in accent and attack, and it came as no surprise to learn that Michael Janisch has featured this fine group on his Whirlwind Recordings label (check out the trio’s Cohesion CD from 2011).

The main event started with Christensen caressing cymbals with hands only, a suitable prelude to the sort of quietly chiming, often (sparingly) digitally enhanced lines which, throughout, Bro floated over the spacious, cross-rhythmic yet firmly anchored pulse supplied by Morgan. I hadn’t heard the bassist live before, and like many in the full – and scrupulously attentive, as well as warmly appreciative – house, I was impressed as much by his beautiful, deep and dark sound as by his unerringly patient command of space and time.

Born in 1978 – the year I heard Christensen drive Ralph Towner’s Solstice quartet with Jan Garbarek and Eberhard Weber in three long-legendary concerts at the Molde Jazz Festival – Bro has a CV that includes gigs and recordings with Paul Motian, Tomasz Stanko, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Kenny Wheeler. Eschewing the revisited standards of his recent Loveland Records release Who Said Gay Paree?, he concentrated instead on the sort of slowly building, spacious lines and filigree touches which make a piece like his Northern Blues sound more like a hymn from some distant outpost of the Nordic psyche than anything related – however distantly – to Chicago’s Southside (a recent YouTube posting features this plaintive piece arranged for children’s choir). One mid-set number featured increasingly distorted post-Hendrix textural and dynamic variation, courtesy of ever-attentive sound processing by Bro.

Overall, however, in a set that largely chose to sustain its opening mood of legato, albeit intense, reflection, the chief dynamic interest was supplied by Christensen. One piece featured mallets only, one brushes, and another (very forcefully) the drummer’s hands. Writing in Jazz Journal, Brian Morton aptly characterised this legendary musician as not so much a time keeper as a Time Lord and for me, it was chiefly Christensen’s shape-shifting contributions throughout that made this trip to the Vortex so rewarding. A colleague of an extraordinary number of the chief innovators in jazz of recent decades, Jon Christensen will be 70 in March: long may he continue to spread his special magic across the barlines!

Photo of Jon Christensen courtesy ECM

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