Review: Texier/Freestone/Sheppard

Michael Tucker is thrilled by a scintillating set from bassist Henri Texier as well as a fine set from saxophonist Andy Sheppard as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival

It's not that often that I would pass on the chance to hear a Jan Garbarek gig. However, having caught the great Norwegian's opening Friday night at the EFG London Jazz Festival, with the Hilliard Ensemble at Temple Church, on Sunday evening I decided to catch French bassist Henri Texier's (pictured) Hope quartet at the Purcell Room rather than see if Garbarek and the Hilliards would alter their programme much in a second concert. And, as the cliché has it: boy, was I glad that I did.  

I've heard some fine gigs from Texier before, but this was something else. Featuring the bassist's son Sebastien Texier (as, cl, bcl), François Corneloup (bar) and Louis Moutin (d), Texier snr. offered an hour and a half of pure jazz magic, the quality of his interplay with the excellent Moutin at times conjuring echoes of Mingus in full flight with Dannie Richmond. Much of the set was drawn from Texier's latest album At L'Improviste, including the deeply grooved Elvin and a tenderly cast tribute Paul Motian. The shifting blends of Texier jnr.'s clarinet, bass clarinet and alto with Corneloup's wide-ranging baritone made for some truly soulful sounds, while Moutin handled all kinds of dynamics with both energy and finesse, including fine work with brushes and some extensive, cooking passages with his bare hands.

The audience loved every minute of it, drawing from Texier snr. some clearly heartfelt words about how much he enjoyed playing in London, before the evening ended with a superb extended pizzicato introduction to his deeply meditative Sueno Canto (Stone Sleep, as Texier translated it) from the 2011 album Canto Negro. For me – and, I would imagine, most people in the audience, given the warmth of their response – jazz rarely comes much better than this.

The evening was made all the more enjoyable by the intelligent programming which gave us the impressively attuned Tori Freestone Trio as the introductory act. Freestone (ts), Dave Monington (b) and Tim Giles (d) featured material from their excellent new Whirlwind release In The Chop House but also offered a specially commissioned work focused on aspects of the history of life on the Thames, including the work of the press gang. Introduced and briefly set in context by Freestone, whose cool yet passionate tenor playing evinced an engaging blend of freshly turned lyricism and shape-shifting rhythmic impetus, this moved from rubato musings reminiscent of the stark beauty of Coltrane's Alabama to strongly folk-inflected passages of dance-inflected joy. If you don't know her work, check out the Chop House session asap and relish music which merits comparison with the achievements of such diverse giants as Rollins and Marsh. 

No matter how wide-ranging their repertoire, when you listen to people like Texier and Freestone, you know what you're listening to: jazz. In recent years, part of the appeal of the LJF for me has been the extent to which the programming has embraced the breadth and depth of what that ostensibly simple term might imply, while also stretching one's understanding of the current evolution of jazz to the limit – and then some. This year's EFG-sponsored festival was no different in this respect. The various hours I spent at the festival did much to confirm my faith in the current health and sheer diversity of jazz today. From the invigorating pianist and leader James Clark and his impossibly young-looking (Welsh) Lonely Hearts Rugby Club big band – where the world-ranging spirit of Loose Tubes was let loose upon a delighted, dancing full house at one of the festival's many free events in the RFH – to the mellow trance and kicking grooves of Chassol, the French keyboards and drum duo whose well-received QEH performance, set to screened film, reproduced the imagistic and sample-rich potency of their recent Indiamore recording, jazz's current status as today's premier music of life-affirming rhythm, of world-ranging confluence and connection, was amply evident. 

Together with the opening performance by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliards, two further concerts – both held at the recently opened, intimate and exquisitely beautiful space that is the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next to the Globe Theatre – showed the extent to which the poetics of jazz today can fashion music of genre-defying quality. In Shakespeare Songs, Andy Sheppard (ts, ss), Guillaume Chassy (p) and Christophe Marguet (d) were joined by actor Emma Pallant, whose imaginatively varied, brief introductory readings set the tone for a string of now lyrical, now rhythmically charged responses to some of the many ongoing existential questions raised by such masterpieces as, e.g., Hamlet, Lear and “the Scottish play”. Sheppard and his French companions were in fine form throughout: Marguet is another drummer who can impress with sticks, brushes and bare hands alike and Chassy proved to be a most sensitive player, whose version of a dark-hued song from the days of Henry IV offered a suitable coda to the rousingly well-received proceedings. 

The duo concert Flamenco Jazz, from pianist Chano Dominguez and guitarist Niño Josele, was neither flamenco nor jazz in any strict sense of those terms, but rather music of diversely turned mood and rhythm, inflected to various degrees with the aura and atmosphere of its twin parental archetypes. The concert opened with a lovely reading of John Lewis's Django and then focused largely on material from the particpants's new release Chano & Josele, including material by Lennon and McCartney (Because) and Michel Legrand (Je t'attendrai). There was also an excellent reading of the late Paco de Lucia's Canto d'Amor. Apart from a richly conceived solo piece by Josele, full of flamenco tropes, and a fiercely driven encore from both men, of comparable quality, deep drafts of the duende were as absent as the spirit of Bud Powell's 'un poco loco'. However, that did nothing to diminish the evident enjoyment of the full house, whose unbridled enthusiasm clearly touched both participants – as did the sheer beauty of the venue: “It's incredible, like performing in a painting!” exclaimed Dominguez. 

Hugely enjoyable as it is, the EFG London Jazz Festival demands a good deal of stamina from those who would partake as fully as possible of its many riches. One can only imagine the amount of work that must go into setting up and delivering such an event. So it was with great pleasure that I heard the news that festival director John Cumming has just been awarded an OBE for his outstanding services to jazz. Many congratulations, John!

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