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Jazzin' Around Europe

Jazzclub Singen (Hohentwiel, Germany) 15th Anniversary

By Published: June 8, 2005
Eric Watson (American, based in Paris) has the musical command and huge piano technique needed to inhabit the harmonic realm of Monk (as well as Charles Ives). A desire to check his trio CDs was intensified by an encore slower and simpler than the program which preceded it, a single item more like you'd hear in the course of a standard gig. The night's non-standard program had comprised lengthy workouts, including attempts to play every item on the quartet's new CD, Road Movies. I'd not heard the CD at the time and couldn't imagine it being quite on the lines of the live delivery. Every item was an extended arrangement with alternating sections, and both transitions and sudden switches between very soft and volcanic and back. There had been rain during the second set. Shortcutting down one alley on my way back to the station I saw lightning. My disdain of international fast-food joints vanished on finding a new one had opened across from the station. I could wait for the train there. Had there been thunder when the band was blasting fortissimo? Had that music actually started this storm?

There had been times, though. when one raindrop would have startled the audience. The saxophonist the series program called unsere (our) Christof Lauer went through a range of sounds wider than I remember from any tenor saxophonist who knew what he was doing. At one extreme, if he'd blown any less lightly there would have been no sound at all. This was the more startling after a sustained solo which might have blown a curved soprano saxophone straight.

From pianissimo his tenor went into a rather dry-toned version of cool. When that seemed to be over, Lauer, to considerable purpose and musical effect, produced sounds kittens melt hearts with. On one second set item an infant exploded into tears from the same saxophone.

Other performances were vibrant with a slightly hairy-edged Coltraneish sound (not the mock-Coltrane which is all some fools know). On yet others Lauer played soprano saxophone impersonations on the same tenor: he sounded exactly like somebody playing soprano, though not like himself playing soprano. The tonal versatility came a little too near excessive fluency. The problem with such an exceptional expertise with sonorities (many of them far from what's conventionally termed sonorous) is that the listener can lose the place. Is anybody there and saying anything? In this case, presumably yes. Every number began with the youthful-looking Watson lifting a meter or more length of sheet music from a pile on the floor of the small theatre stage, and de-concertina-ing it across the piano top. One or two lay flat, the two meters of one alarming score half stood up in a hillscape of zigzags, other expanses of paper held positions in-between.

Each item began with a highly organised statement by concerted ensemble, or piano or trio, an arrangement of the theme and the very opposite of perfunctory. These statements were without exception interesting and, when a performance had reached its end or final climax, the reprise of the complex prelude added contrast and depth - complementary to the often dionysiac frenzy the audience had experienced since last hearing the thematic section.

A program comprised by compositions each with a succession of (improvising at length) sections makes item by item mapping (like "next they played a ballad") impossible in the review of a live performance.

Jean-Philippe Morel took over in the middle of some performances, Lauer presumably finding a perch offstage, Watson on the piano stool certainly no less delighted than anybody in the audience, Christophe Marguet either joining in with France's response to Charnett Moffett (who needs to watch his back) or sitting back like the rest of us as the slight-looking flying-haired bassist went supervirtuoso. Morel seemed dwarfed at times not by his bass but by quite how much music as well as sound was coming from it—not least when Marguet was as so often being aptly unsubtle. That drummer seems generally accomplished in every respect, but this was no quiet night.

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