Headlining the third ESB Dublin Jazz Week, a sprightly-looking Elvin Jones led his young band in an eclectic, challenging set comprising just four lengthy songs.
Garbed in a natty pair of multi-coloured trousers, the 73-year-old drummer chose to strongly feature new material rather than to rely on the past glories of his years in the classic John Coltrane quartet. Opener “It’s Monk”, by pianist Eric Lewis, grabbed the attention with a theme that was discordant yet catchy, recalling the music of Thelonious Monk without aping it. A brilliant showcase for Jones’s menacing, and just plain loud, drumming, the number’s adventurous feel was tempered by a well-judged, blue-tinged, straight-ahead solo from trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. The understated theme of the next cut, Marsalis’s Jazz Messengers-ish “The Lone Warrior”, was beautifully played in unison by the trombonist and saxophonist Stefano di Batista, who also contributed a serpentine solo on alto.
The centre-piece of the gig was the 45-minute, multi-part reading of a Japanese folk tune, “The Doll of the Bride”. More of a suite than a single number, it never outstayed its welcome, despite the extended soloing from every member of the band. Lewis’s haunting intro was truly eerie and contrasted well with his frenzied, crowd-pleasing solo later in the piece. Steve Kirby’s solo was another high point; at various moments the bassist coaxed something very like the sound of a cello and even that of the Classical guitar from his instrument. The number’s disparate elements were effectively bound together by the stately, recurring funeral dirge of a theme.
The band encored with a spirited, witty version of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing ...”. Lewis’s playing nodded to stomp, stride and ragtime, while Jones’ elemental drumming spurred an already tight band to greater heights, as it did at various points throughout the evening. A capacity Vicar Street crowd gave the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine a well-deserved standing ovation.