ALBUM LAUNCH, Vortex Jazz Club
Solstice ooze quality. This British contemporary jazz sextet, with strong involvements in London's E17 jazz collective, played two really tasty sets at the Vortex to launch their new, lightly food-themed album, Alimentation.
Solstice are also a close group of friends who share a love of cooking in an ad hoc dining club, and as the band's style has evolved, some compositions for the group have gathered food-based titles. As a bonus at the Vortex, delicious samples of their culinary skills were also on offer!
It was particularly rewarding to hear how the sextet used the sophisticated melodic and harmonic base of their compositions to expand the material and create all kinds of spaces for individual and group contributions in the live context.
Whist there is a strongly English character to the band's sound, tracking back to the likes of Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, there is also an airy, upbeat, and at times melancholic, Latin flavour which surfaces. Pianist John Turville has traced this in conversation (link below) to the influence of Brazilian jazz giant Hermeto Pascoal (review), with whom saxophonist Tori Freestone recently performed in a big band opposite his septet.
A deeper, underlying theme of the album is that of loss and, with typically British humour, is hinted at in Turville's Mourning Porridge and Freestone's Avocado Deficit.
Each musician blossomed in this supportive, creative group context. Vocalist Brigitte Beraha has great range and control. She made the complex demands of scat and scripted vocals sound so natural, and elided into raw, abstract vocalese on George Hart's richly charged Solstice while Turville plucked the piano wires. On Dave Manington's sensitive, Latin-tinted re-imagining of Björk's Anchor Song she gave extra sparkle to the lyrics.
Guitarist Jez Franks' use of delay and reverb brought in additional layering to the tonal wash complementing Manington's gem of a solo on the bassist's subtle, new composition Random Acts of Kindness, and Franks' ability to fluently cross the lines of jazz and rock added a dynamic edge.
It was a delight to hear Freestone's liquid tenor and soprano sax soloing - assertive, confidently understated with an absorbing melodic undercurrent - qualities which carried through to her beautiful, expressive flute solo on Manington's Ultimate Big Cheese. Similarly, Turville's graceful piano work had a high-flying authority which just kept on revealing new structural schema. Hart blended in to add rhythmic and tonal layering with great sensitivity, and chose the final number, The Ultimate Four, to let rip in great style right at the knockings.
The essence of Solstice is that adage, '… the sum of the parts …', and it is the way that group stick together, share ideas and bounce them around that brought out the very best of these exceptional musicians on stage.