Barkingside and The Convergence Quartet: Young and Free
Between them, these two quartets feature six young players, four from the UK, one from America, one from Canada. As the oldest of the six is not yet 35 years oldand several are much youngerthey provide heartening evidence that there are plenty of good young improvisers around and that not all young players aspire to be boppers.
The Convergence Quartet
Live In Oxford
The Convergence Quartet teams pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash (both also in Barkingside) with cornetist/flugelhornist Taylor Ho Bynum from Baltimore and drummer Harris Eisenstadt from Toronto. The quartet's music is an unpredictable amalgam of jazz from various eras plus free improvisation; it employs the syntax of jazz but constantly subverts our expectations with interjections of improv.
Opening with a flourish from Eisenstadt, who then lays down a rhythmic base with Lash, "Miscellaneous" seems to be following a well-trodden path, until Bynum joins the fray and things become far more interesting. After some sustained growling notes (straight out of early Ellington, no less) Bynum repeatedly plays a simple four-note theme before launching into a totally free improvised duet with Lash. At the end of this, the simple theme is restated, before Hawkins fires off a rapid-fire fractured solo, supported by thunderous drumming that enhances the drama created by the piano.
The clear message of this opening track is sustained throughout the album: "Expect the unexpected. Don't assume. Don't relax!"
Repeatedly, Bynum is the wild card here, the joker in the pack, the subversivehis contributions keeping everyone on their toes. There is fine playing from all concerned, but Bynum really makes you take notice. His stunning solo on "Convergence" is beautifully constructed, with a clear dramatic curve leading to a great climax; along the way, he even manages a call-and-response dialogue with himself. Remarkable.
Barkingside is a less than salubrious outer London suburb (which, the members of the quartet point out, none of them has ever visited!). It seems to have been chosen less for its location than for its name, in particular its canine connotations, as the three track titles are all names of obscure breeds of dog. Odd.
Despite sharing two of its members, Barkingside sounds very different to The Convergence Quartet, having no hint of its jazz syntax. Rather than focusing on individual contributions, Barkingside, predominantly, all improvise simultaneously, creating a free flowing, ever shifting soundscape. Alex Ward's clarinet is the sound that dominates the group, constantly probing, goading, reacting, making things happen.
At times, Ward almost takes the role of soloist, leading the foursome to some thrilling peaks, but he is never less than fully aware of the others and is ever ready to make an unexpected swerve in reaction to them.
In a similar vein, Hawkins' piano clearly displays free jazz influences, piling up torrents of notes in a display of technique that is breathtaking. However, he never becomes the sole focus of the group and is just as impressive when adding spare, economic punctuations to four-way exchanges.
Altogether, the level of group empathy displayed here is scary given that the musicians had played comparatively few gigs together before these recordings were made. Barkingside have a very bright future.
Tracks and Personnel
Live In Oxford
Tracks: Miscellaneous; Goad; Convergence; Goodbye, Sir; MM (PF).
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn; Alexander Hawkins: piano, small instruments; Dominic Lash: double bass; Harris Eisenstadt: drums.
Tracks: Alopekis; Basenji; Carnauzer.
Personnel: Alex Ward: clarinet; Alexander Hawkins: piano; Dominic Lash: double bass; Paul May: percussion.