St George’s, Bristol (Thur May 5)
There are eight players on stage – and great ones at that – but essentially it’s pianist/composer Dave Stapleton’s imagination that they are realising. Combining the resources of a classical string quartet with four jazz musicians, Stapleton’s latest album ‘Flight’ is a remarkable project that frames jazz freedom within the structures of carefully composed music. Taking such a crafted piece of work out of the studio has obvious challenges, particularly when you factor in the risks of an acoustic performance. Any worries are unfounded, however, and what we get tonight is a beautifully realised extension of the record with some of the most enthralling music I’ve ever heard at St George’s.
Tracks like ‘Unity’ and ‘Whisper’ stand out for the careful integration of strings into a flow around which Marius Neset’s soaring tenor sax can wrangle and below which Olavi Louhivuori roils a multi-faceted stream of percussion. More than on the album Stapleton allows himself an expressive voice, his piano commenting, urging and restraining like an invisible conductor throughout. It’s bassist Dave Kane who emerges as crucial, his instrument a natural bridge between the two elements of the ensemble and his impeccable rhythmic ear locking the sound together. On the Gorecki-referencing ‘Henryk’ he’s the flawless underpinning that permits everything else to float dreamily, Neset sketching and resketching the theme, Louhvuori playing without sticks, Stapleton brushing notes from the piano. The piece builds and boils into a hard-edged modal jazz exposition then carefully subsides into a magnificent eight-way elegy with the sax’s regretful voice subsiding into breathlessness. That’s one (but only one) of those enthralling moments in an evening that seems to offer almost too much to hear at one sitting. Unbelievably it’s the first time they’ve played the music live and if it continues to flower like this I can only envy Saturday’s London audience for the sublime treat they have in store. (Tony Benjamin)
Copyright Tony Benjamin 2012; pics Tim Dickeson 2012