Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio
Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia
September 26, 2009
It took a few numbers for the wining and dining crowd at the cozy, candle-lit Alexis Bistro to realize that Tim Garland's Lighthouse Trio was something a bit special. Slowly but surely the chatter abated and was replaced by a silence that framed this quite scintillating musical performance.
The gradual enchantment of the audience began with the opening notes from Garland's bass clarinet, echoing back via the effects box-like, a sorcerer's spell, and heralding the familiar refrain of the breathtaking, Spanish-flavored "Bajo del Sol," staple of many an Earthworks concert.
Anyone at Alexis Bistro more used to jazz of a smoother variety would no doubt have been gob- smacked by Gwilym Symcock's tempestuous piano solo on this number. Spurred on by Asaf Sirkis's inventive drumming, Symcock used the entire range of his keyboard with great inventiveness. Both Sirkis and Symcock were given full rein by Garland, who, like the best of leaders, acknowledges the strengths of his band mates by allowing them the space necessary to fully express themselves. In Sirkis and Symcock, Garland appreciates that he has two of the very best on their respective instruments, and the musical personalities of all three illuminated the venue.
The trio largely showcased material from the outstanding Libra (Global Mix, 2009). "Old Man Winter," with an Egyptian Samai rhythm based on a cycle of ten beats, featured a lovely soprano solo from Garland. "Hang Loose" threw Sirkis into the spotlight on the relatively new hang drum, invented by Swiss pair Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer in 2000. In appearance it looks like the cooking pot of an extraterrestrial, and its sound is like a cross between a tabla and a West Indian steel drum.
Sirkis coaxed quite enchanting sounds from this peculiar instrument, paving the way for the tight interplay that followed. Garland, switching to tenor, created a lusty, vibrant solo. Symcock's solo, which was equally captivating, saw him punch out some funky left-hand figures suggestive of Dr. John while his right hand roamed fast and free. Sirkis and Garland comped in a minimalist but funky manner.
Whether on tenor, soprano or bass clarinet, Garland is in total command of his instrument. There is no better multi-reed instrumentalist in the UK today, and comparisons with the great American players like Joe Lovano are by now utterly merited. Just as impressive, however, are his compositions and clever arrangements. Who, other than Garland, would think to tag a boisterous tango onto the tail of Bill Evans'/Miles Davis' "Blue in Green?"
The Evans/Davis ballad was no slavish copy, with the melody merely alluded to by Garland's oddly powerful tenor, though Symcock's delicate playing brought some of Bill Evans' unique lyricism to the piece. The new tango-inspired piece, "Order and Storm," followed seamlessly and moved between classic tango figures and explorations of the darker, angrier emotions lying just below the surface. Symcock's playing was full of the requisite passion, and invention too, and raised the tension and the energy levels of the trio. A glowing number was brought to a climax by a percussive duet between Symcock on the inner body of his piano and Sirkis on udu modeled on the Nigerian side hole pot drumand cymbal, with Garland joining in enthusiastically on shaker.
The arranging skills of Garland were also seen in his seamless juxtaposition of two very contrasting numbers by the two other members of his trio. "The Journey Home" by Sirkis, from his excellent solo album The Monk(SAM Production, 2008) had a dreamy reverie to it, with Symcock tredding softly in the upper register of the keys. The pianist's composition, "Jaco and Joe," a tribute to Weather Report legends Jaco Pastorius and the late Joe Zawinul, was a study in shifting dynamics and tight trio interplay and featured some fine free-flowing solos. There was an extra poignancy watching Symcock scorch and caress the keys, in the knowledge that he will leave the trio at the end of this tour, almost inevitably, to pursue his solo career. Although Symcock will be an extremely tough act to follow, one also suspects that Garland will conjure another special rabbit from his magic hat.
On the slower, anthemic "Black Elk," one of the outstanding compositions on Libra, Garland displayed a lyricism in his playing that brought to mind the great saxophonist Wayne Shorter. His playing combined with Symcock's spellbinding meditations on piano held the audience rapt. Segueing straight into "Break in the Weather" Garland unleashed a raging solo on soprano with Symcock responding with some thunder of his own. And all the while Sirkis kept unobtrusive, polyrhythmic time.
Sirkis's kit consisted of a couple of mounted frame drums, an Egyptian style riqq (tambourine) which he swore he bought in Camden market for a fivera curiously bent small cymbal and the aforementioned udu and hang drum. The wonderful timbre of these instruments meant that Sirkis could bring tremendous power to his playing without drowning out the other instruments. After eight years and seven albums withGilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble and four years with Garland's trio, not to mention his own fascinating excursions as leader in his own right, Sirkis has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best drummers/percussionists in the business.
The set finished with two powerful numbers: firstly, a glorious, swinging rendition of Charles Mingus's "Nostalgia in Times Square" with a bruising, exclamative statement from Garland and finally, as the encore, the equally powerful "Going Ashore" from the trio's If the Sea Replied (Sirocco, 2006.) The sorcerer and his apprentices took their bows in front of an audience bathed in the afterglow of an altogether exhilarating performance.