Review: Jon Crespo at Abergavenny

Trumpeter Jon Crespo and his quartet produced multifarious sounds at their Black Mountain Jazz gig in Abergavenny. Nigel Jarrett was there to listen

Chet Baker may have found more freedom when released from the almost definitive double-horn association with Gerry Mulligan, especially in the quartet format in which bass, drums, and piano played subsidiary roles (the Mulligan foursome, of course, was pianoless). It was a Baker disc, possibly the one recorded in 1954 at Ann Arbor with the leader riding high as a Metronome world-beater, that "converted" the Cardiff-based Canadian trumpeter Jon Crespo (pictured right) to jazz.

Crespo was born in South America, his family later fleeing the post-Allende régime to become Canucks in Toronto, where he studied music. In Wales his quartet is enjoying a residency at the capital's Café Jazz and has two more appearances there before the leader jets to California for some West Coast duties. He won't be around for Black Mountain Jazz's Wall2Wall Festival at the end of August, so the quartet - Crespo, bassist Ashley Long, drummer Greg Evans, and pianist Dave Jones - slotted in this late date at the BMJ's final monthly club gig before the festival starts.

Crespo, like Baker, is an open-horn man, always a guarantee in a restricted club atmosphere of keeping everyone awake. This reviewer at least would have liked the Harmon mute to have made an appearance. Then the mood, invincibly upbeat, could have been altered when combined with a deceleration of tempo. Wah-wah effects were manual and short-lived. As in all quartets with a pre-eminent leader, Crespo announced themes with confidence and was a buoyant, if sometimes over-decorative, soloist. His influences are wide, from swing to bebop, but surprisingly with the cooler West Coast sounds of Baker eschewed in favour of, say, Freddie Hubbard, whose Red Clay saw Jones switching his keyboard to electric mode in accordance with the tune's 1970s origins.

Charts played by horn-led quartets of the traditional sort tend to be predictable, though the unfurling solos at this gig were long enough to expand each number, the emphasis overall being on quality and substance rather than numerical quantity. It gave the audience time to focus more intently on the group's internal goings-on, Jones's upward-and-onward style revealing its constructive idiosyncrasies, such as double-handed de-escalations in unison, and a chord-punctuating left hand suddenly released to do single-note, melodic duty.

Then there was Long's LaFaro-like virtuosity as he leaned into the upper register for finger-dazzling escapades, at one point aping Slam Stewart with a phrase in octaves but played as double stops rather than bowed and sung at the higher interval in the Stewart style. Long's walking bass is fluid and often deeply dug, which sometimes made his solo eruptions seem as if they belonged in some other jazz environment. Combine that with Greg Evans's relatively backgrounded role at the drums - though he's a sensitive player, ever alert to what's going on - and some might detect in the line-up a slight imbalance of roles, not that every member couldn't adapt to a different scenario, musically thought out. That Crespo may be aware of other variants was in evidence at the end, when in one tune he invited Evans to duet, an invitation the drummer gleefully accepted.

Any reservations were clouded by Crespo's direct and untiring solos; on Wayne Shorter's Footprints, for example, where the original waltz time was transferred to a funky eight-in-a-bar, and on Eddie Vinson's Four, played at the speed it should be (Miles Davis's version always sounded sluggish), with everyone up and running as usual. The band was evidently enjoying itself, in a couple of places seeming to embellish its lines with as many quotes from Blue Monk as could be squeezed in. But from the start, with Love For Sale, Crespo gave notice of a trumpet style embodying sundry influences. As he said, and I paraphrase only slightly, "Where words fail, music will prevail". The prevailing sounds emerging from his horn were multifarious. A sort of originality often lies in the combination of all those impacting voices, one well suited to everything from Tadd Dameron's Ladybird and Sonny Rollins's Tenor Madness to Harry Warren's There Will Never Be Another You. On this last we were spared Mack Gordon's lyrics, Crespo saying we wouldn't like to hear him sing. His words; this time not failing.

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