Scarborough Jazz Festival: Scarborough, UK, September 28-30, 2012
Bassist Jenni Molloy's music came from a very different place. Her starting point lies with Bach's cello suites and solo violin sonatas and partitas, which, given her classical training, is perhaps not surprising. However, the way she took these source materials into jazz was simply inspired. It wasn't a matter of exploring how Bach might sound played à la mode jazzafter all, both pianists Jacques Loussier and John Lewis and others have done that. Her aim was to take Bach on a journey through the many worlds of jazz.
Molloy's Bach ReLoaded project featured Stuart MacDonald on saxophones and Chris Sykes on drums and percussion, and for this performance they were augmented by Gary Gillyatt on guitar, banjo and balalaika. They began the journey from below the Equator in Argentina, where baroque already meets the local dance form, opening with the sinuous and sexy "Prelude and Piazzolla Tango." MacDonald was a fine saxophonist with a light touch on tenor and soprano, while Sykes proved a thoughtful, articulate yet propulsive drummer. Molloy's bass was appropriately forthright and upfront, combining long echoing notes with staccato runs. More than that she could swingall qualities well in evidence here.
Molloy's geography, however, clearly wasn't too hot, as their next point of arrival was Abu Dhabi by way of Bradford. Gary Gillyatt joined at this point on balalaika, its twangy, elastic sound echoing perhaps the oud, the sitar or tambura on "Footprints in the Sarabande." As Molloy made clear, the music now resonated with the Muslim call to prayer. Was it surprising to find Johann Sebastian in such company? Less than one might imagine, perhaps. The late 17th and early 18th century saw Central Europe living almost cheek by jowl with the Ottoman Empire. It might not be a cozy relationship, but in the hands of Molloy's trio it was a productive one. From there, we were directed to America's Deep South with its country and blues accents reinforced by Gary Gillyatt's banjo, and from there to South Africa, District 6 and the Cape Flats with "District 6 Revisited," all enlivened by the sensuous, dancing rhythms of township and kwela.
It was a heady but also funky and even primal music that the Jenni Molloy Trio fashioned from these curious but somehow fitting musical appropriations. Importantly, it worked. As with Rhythmica, it was a music still en route and yet to arrive, but in both cases the journey itself was fascinating and part of the fun. With Bach ReLoaded, there was a sense that this set might have worked better in a club than on the concert stage. Perhaps there wasn't quite enough dynamic contrast. Yet, it's the potential of both groups that is most intriguing. Molloy's ideas could be heard expanding into larger ensembles using all manner of non-western instruments and electronics to fine effect. At the same time, Rhythmica could be imagined tackling the brooding, abstract territory of mid-seventies Miles Davis, acoustically rather than electrically, with vision and skill. Both will probably follow their own, distinct paths but the fact that such potential can be heard in their current musical locations promises much and shows just how fine both bands already are.