Chris Biscoe is a frequent visitor to these parts, always bringing with him top class British players as well as some who may have escaped our notice. One such radar-dodger is saxophonist Pete Hurt, a gifted composer as well as a scandalously under-rated reedsman. In this quintet he gets to share the limelight – albeit reluctantly – with multi-instrumentalist Biscoe, who himself has a long and illustrious pedigree. Alongside the two of them are the brilliantly unpredictable pianist Liam Noble, dependable bassist Dave Whitford, and fiery young drummer, Jon Scott.
The up-tempo opener, Thelonius Monk’s ‘I Mean You’, set the tone for the evening with confident thematic statements, studied arrangements and generous solos. Equally engaging was ‘This One’, the first of Pete Hurt’s original compositions for tenor and alto, winning us over with its easy swing and charming melodic solos.
Chris Biscoe’s ‘Oh Pioneers’ was a quite different kettle of fish. Dedicated to some of jazz’s leading lights, it also referenced his aversion to bubble and squeak. Hence the initial jaunty theme broke down into fractious fragments, and by the end it had become a strange kind of free-for-all that few saw coming. Perhaps it was an oblique throwback to Chris’s time with Mike Westbrook or Graham Collier, but it certainly broadened the mind.
If that unsettled some of the crowd, then they would have been reassured by the quintet’s reading of Rodgers & Hart’s ‘Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ which saw the five on much firmer ground. Biscoe took up the alto clarinet (a rare reed indeed) to deliver the familiar tune in tandem with Hurt’s tenor.
Then it was Liam Noble’s turn to step into the spotlight as composer of ‘Ask Your Mother’, which began with an angulate piano introduction and gathered momentum until it became a rollicking kind-of-blues with quirky twists and turns fiendishly designed to test each soloist’s mettle.
Pete Hurt’s ‘Forbidden Fruit’ kicked off the second set, and once again displayed the saxophonist’s ear for a good tune. His four accomplices seemed to concur, as they ensured Hurt’s piece swung with all the conviction of a solid gold jazz standard.
‘Aggro Tourismo’ was written jointly by Hurt and Biscoe and featured Pete on soprano and Chris on alto. It was cast as a jittery melodic line shared bit-by-bit between the two leading players and was, as the title suggests, assertive in every way. Contrast that with another of Pete Hurt’s pieces which followed: ‘Lost for Words’ was, for the most part, a fulsome and straightforward ballad, until Jon Scott threw in some cute cross-rhythms to keep Noble and Whitford on their toes.
Chris Biscoe’s ‘Down the Rio’ moved in a similarly weird way to that of ‘Oh Pioneers’, setting out as a stroll guided by alto clarinet and tenor which somehow found its way to the free-improv land of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Intriguing indeed.
The quintet rounded off with a frantic arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Three Little Words’, during which Biscoe, Hurt, Noble and Whitford were keen to show off their chops. But most impressive of of all was Scott, who saved his scurrying drum solo till the end.
©2018 Julia Price