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Gary Husband's Force Majeure: Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

John Kelman By

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...this lavish two-DVD set, with a bevy of extra features, should--if there's any justice--" bring Husband's inestimable talents to a broader audience.
Gary Husband's Force Majeure
Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
RSJ Groove Productions RSJFM007DVD
2005

Perhaps best known to fusion fans as the drummer behind guitarist Allan Holdsworth, one of the most distinctive musical voices of the past 30+ years, Gary Husband remains something of a secret as a pianist and composer in his own right. And yet, on albums including The Things I See: Interpretations of the Music of Allan Holdsworth—where Husband delivers an evocative homage by using Holdsworth compositions as jumping-off points for a number of inventive and heartfelt solo piano pieces—Husband shows that not only is he an outstanding pianist, but one with a broad stylistic reach that goes far beyond the purview of the fusion genre to which he and Holdsworth have commonly been associated. On his album Aspire Husband demonstrates a rich knowledge of more traditional jazz forms—covering standards including "Willow Weep For Me" and "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise"—placed beside the more advanced harmonic flow and through-composed conception of his own pieces.

And so, when Husband was granted a commission by Britain's Creative Music Network (CMN), which has been responsible for bringing all manner of off-the-beaten-path collaborations to British audiences, he was given the opportunity to put together something of a dream band. The resulting tour, and the DVD that documents it, continue to demonstrate Husband's strengths as composer, performer and bandleader. But even more, it shows Husband's ability to conceive longer-form pieces, suites that cover a wide range of emotions and stylistic concerns.

With a truly electric rhythm section that included Jim Beard on various keyboards, Matthew Garrison on electric bass, Arto Tunçboyaciyan on percussion and voice, and Husband himself on drums and piano, Husband had the foundation for an ensemble capable of everything from subtle elegance to greater power and a fusion-like sensibility that managed to avoid the trappings of excess so often associated with the genre. With a front line comprised of Jerry Goodman on violin, Randy Brecker on trumpet and Elliott Mason on trombone and bass trumpet, Husband had enough texture and power to handle the broad dynamic scope of the music he had in mind.

And so, with Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, long-time fans and newcomers alike have the opportunity to experience two full sets with Gary Husband's Force Majeure. Beautifully recorded and edited in collaboration with Steve Bingle of RSJ Groove Productions, this lavish two-DVD set, with a bevy of extra features, should—if there's any justice—bring Husband's inestimable talents to a broader audience.

For the evening, Husband uses two specific themes. The first set revolves around three extended pieces that Husband wrote as evocations of artists significant in his life—Burt Bacharach, Björk and John McLaughlin. That Goodman, Garrison and Beard have all played with McLaughlin at different times over the years, make Husband's piece for McLaughlin particularly serendipitous.

But while the spirit of each of Husband's sources hover above the compositions, it's Husband's own compositional voice that comes through clearly. Alternating between piano and drums, as well as stepping out to conduct the group at various times, Husband has his hands full. And yet musical transitions flow seamlessly, with Husband's shifting duties appearing almost like sleight of hand.

The second set is based on the theme of architecture, with a five-part suite that ranges from the 12/8 shuffle of "Final Curtain" to the visceral 7/4 groove of the solo section to "Wings Over City Square." Each movement, with its shifting musical images, is almost like a miniature suite in itself, giving the larger whole a broader complexion.

Most remarkable about Husband's compositions is how they manage to combine strict structure with open-ended improvisation. There are points in the evening where it feels like purely free improvisation, but the way the ensemble emerges into more form-based passages belies a deeper compositional complexity.

And yet, as complex as Husband's pieces are—and odd meters aside, just the number of mood shifts in most pieces would be enough to send many a skilled musician running for cover—and as abstract as his thematic conception can sometimes be, the music manages to have a centre that makes it compelling from start to finish.

The level of playing is exceptional, with each musician getting the opportunity, through the course of the evening, to stand out. Jerry Goodman is especially welcome, given that he is rarely heard from these days. But while he may not get out much, his talent remains intact. In the solo section of "Evocations: Burt Bacharach," over a mind-boggling 11/8 fusion riff that still manages to feel completely natural, Goodman plays like he's out there doing it every night. Towards the end of the solo the camera focuses on the interaction between Goodman and Husband, and it's clear that they're having a blast.

Randy Brecker may not be as in the public eye as some, but his musical breadth is unquestionable; and he's the kind of name that, when mentioned, immediately evokes a response for his instantly recognizable style—equal parts bebop, soul and funk. And while other trumpet players like Norwegian Nu-Jazzer Nils Petter Molvær get more press these days it should be remembered that Brecker, aside from having a deep-rooted understanding of jazz from the traditional to the modern, has been a true trendsetter in terms of amplifying the instrument and treating it electronically.

Less-known, but deserving of greater exposure, is Elliot Mason. An ex-pat Brit who now lives in New York, Mason possesses the ability to be both richly lyrical and furiously aggressive on trombone. And while the bass trumpet is an instrument rarely seen or heard, Mason makes a case for it as an instrument worthy of more attention and use. Mason's speed and precision on the instrument is only matched by his thematic conception. His duet with Husband on "Evocations: John McLaughlin: may get heated, fast and furious, but Mason never resorts to meaningless displays of virtuosity; his solos always have a clear sense of purpose.

Jim Beard is one of those ubiquitous names that you see on a host of records, often in the producer's chair and, consequently, usually playing more of a support role. But he's such a distinctive player—not only in his choice of texture, but in his solo conception and his choice of voicings—that his work on this DVD may come as something of a surprise, arguably some of the strongest, most dynamic and up-front playing of his career.

Arto Tunçboyaciyan is more than just percussionist; he's a sound colourist who uses everything from traditional percussion instruments to hand made devices, along with an incredible vocal range that can be both melodic and percussive. There are few musicians who can make a musical statement armed with only a tambourine, a beer bottle and voice, but Tunçboyaciyan does so with the kind of ease that pervades everything he does. All too-often percussionists and drummers get in the way of each other, but both Tunçboyaciyan and Husband have such big ears that one always complements the other.

Matthew Garrison is one of the few electric bassists forging a new post-Jaco path for the instrument. Combining an unerring ability to find the centre of any groove, no matter how complex the meter, while at the same time being able to intuit just the right moments to interject with his own fills—and often demonstrating a truly frightening dexterity while he's at it—Garrison may have monster chops, but his choices are always musical.

This leaves Husband. The kind of drummer who can navigate challenging meters with the kind of natural ease that comes from a lifetime of living with them, he's the perfect combination of texture, musicality and rhythmic power. His technical ability, as advanced as it is, is really secondary; as a soloist he's all about conception, making a thematic statement. His piano playing, on this set, is more an integral part of the compositional whole rather than a strong improvisational vehicle, but his depth of harmonic knowledge is clear and unassailable. And as a composer, while earlier efforts have demonstrated a personal voice, nothing can prepare one for the sheer ambition of the music he has composed for Force Majeure.

For those looking for ways to categorize this music, it may be a futile effort. There is certainly the energy of fusion; but the textures are broader and, in many ways, more organic. There are elements of through-composed classical composition in the way that Husband orchestrates, not to mention a link to larger jazz ensembles.

One of the most prevalent characteristics about Husband's writing is that it always feels unhurried. With a wealth of ideas, Husband never rushes to get from point A to point B, rather, he lets the music breathe, even when its complexion is more challenging.

But as much as Husband's writing is the centrepiece of the event, this is a show that's equally about ensemble interaction and interplay. Husband clearly wrote his pieces for these distinctive musical personalities in mind. As structured as Husband's pieces can be, there's a sense of improvisational adventure that clearly delineates what he does as jazz, albeit a kind that's modern, and less directly-associated with more traditional forms.

The DVD comes packed with extra features. Disc one includes 75 minutes of audio tracks and outtakes, played over images of the show's set-up, while disc two features an interview with Husband, behind-the-scenes footage and a highlights trailer.

Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London is the kind of show that, quite simply, takes you by surprise in its imagination, conception and execution. Husband has been talking about trying to get this band on the road for summer festivals, and one can only hope that enough interest might be generated to see a version of the band in North America. In the meantime, this DVD serves as a terrific document of Husband's dream band, performing a custom-tailored evening of material that is as emotionally appealing as it is intellectually stimulating.

Live at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London is available now at RSJ Groove.

Visit Gary Husband on the web.

Personnel: Randy Brecker (trumpet), Jerry Goodman (violin), Elliot Mason (trombone, bass trumpet), Jim Beard (keyboards), Arto Tunçboyaciyan (percussion, voice), Matthew Garrison (electric bass), Gary Husband (drums, piano)

Track Listing: Disc One: Evocations: Of Burt Bacharach; Of Björk; Of John McLaughlin; Bonus Features: Audio Tracks; Outtakes
Disc Two: Stone Souls: Wings Over City Square; Tectonics; Final Curtain; The Grand Old Lady of the Sea; Sky Rise; Encore: Chiapas; Bonus Features: Interviews; Behind-the-Scenes Footage; Highlights Trailer

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