Monday Feb 5th
Never one to rest on his laurels, pianist Andrew McCormack pushes the boundaries of jazz to their limit in the pursuit of his craft. Andrew’s latest project – the five-piece Graviton – exemplifies his no-holds-barred approach: seize ideas from whatever quarter they come, meld them together and revel in the result. It’s a challenge – for the players as much as the audience – but delivered with a conviction to win over even the most hard-boiled cynic.
Clearly, McCormack’s ears are open much wider than your average jazzer. For example, he takes minimalist patterns that composer Steve Reich might employ and takes them to the school of Albert Ayler by leaving acres of room for some squealing sax. He then tosses in some heavy doses of prog rock (that much-maligned genre of pop) and arrives at all the ingredients for a Graviton hit – in more ways than one!
The quintet set out their stall with a romp through the opening tracks from their eponymous album: ‘Breathe’, ‘Graviton’, The Waiting Game’ and ‘Kalamata’. Noemi Nuti vocalised in unison with Leo Richardson’s saxophone, Rob Mullarkey plugged away at the fiendishly tricky basslines, and drummer Anton Eger deliberately disrespected the beat and kept everyone on their toes. Meanwhile, Andrew McCormack himself luxuriated in prolonged piano workouts, adding layer upon layer of complexity and intrigue.
Most of the time, Nuti’s wordless vocals added another instrumental colour and texture – a la various singers in the Pat Metheny Group – but when lyrics were part of the mix, as in ‘The Waiting Game’, she sang them with sincerity. Perhaps the ‘jazziest’ moments of the night occurred when Richardson launched into a rip-roaring tenor solo, as he did first on ‘Kalamata’ and on the song that succeeded it – the atmospheric ‘Fellowship’. It began innocently enough: Mullarkey setting up an eccentric bass loop, Nuti whooping into her reverberant mic, McCormack scraping the strings of the upright piano and Eger skittering around his unorthodox kit with brushes and canes. Tension mounted as the music grew louder and denser, culminating in a storming sax solo that shook everyone up. The polar opposite of easy listening, it nevertheless went down a treat.
After those exertions, Richardson sat out ‘The Time Delay of Light’, allowing the spotlight to shine on Noemi Nuti as she wrung maximum meaning out of lyrics like “leaving a trace” and “who can say, anyway, where you go…”.
Urgent piano stabs, throbbing sub-bass and a kicking backbeat ushered us into a nightclub for the start of the second set. The originator of the dance vibe proved to be Bjork – her ‘Army of Me’ supplying the only cover of the set. Anton Eger then let loose on his unconventional two-snare, large floor tom and no tom-tom set up during ‘Look Up’. His sparky solo was cheered to the rafters.
Andrew McCormack’s dramatic and intense solo piano piece, ‘Dreamcatcher’ – with its palette of colours that owed as much to classicists like Ashkenazy or Brendel as much as Jarrett and Corea – had everyone, including pianist himself, on the edge of their seat.
The eerie ‘Andromeda’ called the rest of the band back, to a world of synth pads and multi-layered vocals. Bit by bit morphing into the frantic ‘Escape Velocity’, the latter providing the platform for another exhilarating piano solo from McCormack. Thereafter, Graviton hurtled towards the piece’s decisive end at breakneck speed.
Before taking their leave, McCormack & Co. revisited ‘Vista’, a tune Andrew introduced to the Cheltenham Jazz crowd at the same venue several years ago. This time cast for quintet, it featured a blistering bass solo from Rob Mullarkey, a vocal flourish from Noemi Nuti and a final blast on the horn from Leo Richardson.
A fine way to finish!
©2018 Julia Price