Interplay @ The Victory Club.

Jazz fusion came in for some bad press in the 1970s, and for most of its history it has been unable to shake off the shades of inauthenticity that it holds for many jazz fans. So the sight of a pair of tablas, a drum kit the size of a house, and an electric bass awaiting the arrival of Interplay to the stage of the Victory Club must’ve sent the purists in the audience into panic mode. However, they needn’t have worried, as Adrian Litvinoff’s band have a good cache of core jazz repertoire up their collective sleeves.

To assuage those sceptical purists, and so as not to frighten the horses, the quintet opened with Art Pepper’s ‘Las Cuevas De Mario’ – a comparatively straight-ahead blowout for tenor, trombone, piano, bass and drums, albeit in 5/4 time. They followed up with ‘Shapeshift’, the first of Adrian’s compositions to be heard tonight. As the title suggests, the tune begins with a swing but veers off at tangents, requiring the soloist – whether it be saxophonist Alan Wakeman, trombonist Richard Baker, or pianist Neil Hunter – to be on their toes at every twist and turn.

Litvinoff confessed to taking much of his inspiration from nature, and ‘A Grey Day at Gorey’ evokes grizzly, gloomy skies through its pitting Baker’s of mellow trombone melody against Wakeman’s keening soprano. Not all the numbers were so successful, however, and the cod-reggae introduction to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’ seemed somewhat ill-advised. This impression wasn’t helped by the rather clunky transitions from one passage to another: drummer Dave Balen sidled over to his tablas while Adrian Litvinoff’s electric bass took centre stage, which was engaging in its own right but rather broke the flow of the song.

No such problems with ‘The River At Sundown’, a rather lovely ballad featuring Alan Wakeman’s soprano sax atop a bed of lush synth pads, supplied by keyboard player Neil Hunter. Interplay drew the first half to a close with a stomping version of Mingus’s ‘Boogie Stop Shuttle’.

Richard Baker’s delay in returning from the bar after the interval held us, and the rest of the band, in suspense for several minutes. The leisurely trombone solo, when it came – during a particularly attractive reading of Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’ –was well worth waiting for. The Adderley Brothers’ ‘Walk Tall’ was rendered as a funky blues, and offered up the opportunity for Hunter to really show off his keyboard skills. His whirl through Fender Rhodes, Hammond and reverb-laced piano sounds were reminiscent of Lyle Mays, a long-time associate of Pat Metheny.

There’s little doubt that Livinoff writes catchy tunes: ‘Fashion Statement’ and ‘Fitness Programme’ being good examples. And the Wakeman/Baker frontline delivers them with conviction. However, occasionally the energy evaporates, and one is left contemplating the curate’s egg syndrome. That said any jazz group determined to plough their own furrow in these trying times is only to be applauded. And likewise, including an overlooked classic tune like McCoy Tyner’s ‘Contemplation’ in your arsenal is going to win many fans. Its heart is in the right place.

‘Autumn Magic’, the final original tune of the evening, featured Alan Wakeman on flute, and was pretty enough. But Interplay left their ace card until the end: an uproarious “Afro-Cuban extravaganza” entitled ‘Amor Verdadero’. That sent everyone away with a smile on their face – even the purists!

©2014 Julia Price