The collaboration between Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith – winner of a recent award in the BBC jazz awards and Norwegian bass player Arild Andersen goes back a few years; I saw them in the ethereal setting of the Round Church in Bowmore, Islay, which produced a concert of such exquisite beauty that I was a little scared to see them again: how could they possibly match up to that memory, especially with the addition of Cosker on drums?
In Bowmore, the combination of the saxophone and the bass had created a mesmeric, meditative sound that was wholly suited to the setting. Andersen had used his ingenuity and some whizzy technology to set up loops of his percussive bass, providing rhythm to which he and Smith played their gentle melodies. How could drums not contrive to break that spell? Particular since I have seen Cosker play before, and he can be a loud, brash and domineering drummer.
The trio answered my concerns within moments. Andersen played a series of pizzicato phrases, looped them and set up a complex rhythm; and Cosker joined in seamlessly, working abstractly away from the beat. With Smith playing tenor, they created some magical sounds, mixing jazz and folk sensibilities to create their own sound.
It was beautifully contemplative, emotional music, the sounds meshing together to create a vivid soundscape. Stunningly lovely.
I have seen Smith and Andersen twice before – they toured Scotland in the autumn of 2006, when they also recorded together (apparently, they are releasing a CD on ECM this autumn – I don’t know if it was the 2006 sessions that provided the music for the CD) – and every gig I have seen them in was in a church or former church – the Round Church, the Lot, and now the Hub. Perhaps they choose their venues to fit the sound they produce…
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Andersen, Smith and Cosker were followed onto the stage at the Hub by a trio of Brian Kellock on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. They started off very free and open, Kellock scattering notes seemingly at random, Wilson working his kit and an assortment of hand-held percussion in response, leaving Lightcap to hold it together. This worked really well, the three of them creating an abstract space to explore.
After about ten minutes, the pianos chords resolved into “The Way You Look Tonight”, and Kellock started to play it straight ahead in the mainstream. After the experimental start, I thought this would be temporary, Kellock showing where he had come from and that he could play different styles. Instead, they were firmly stuck in the mainstream for the next hour or so.
This was a pity. They didn’t match the interest they had generated early; they played it very straight – it was good, they knew what they were doing, and they played some great standards, but it wasn’t the same.
They were joined for the last three numbers by Lianne Carroll as guest vocalist. I don’t particularly like jazz singers – and as jazz singers go, I thought Carroll was all right – the vocals didn’t impinge too much – she was using her voice as an instrument in the ensemble, rather being the dominant voice – but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Perhaps I had been spoiled after the wonderful set by Andersen, Smith and Cosker; either, I wasn’t especially enamoured of the trio. All right as far as it went, but they had shown so much more promise.