LIVE REVIEW: Alex Douglas Quartet, Manchester Jazz Festival, 28th July

'Improvisation at this level is not something one hears every week, and sometimes has to be sought out in a few cities or expensive, infrequent gigs. As well as showcasing new and diverse talents, MJF has in this case brought some great British jazz music to the streets of Manchester. This was a memorable performance and rapturously received by the audience.'

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MJF 2016 is rightly proud of itself for winning the European Jazz Network Award for its adventurous programme. It’s impossible to please everyone; jazz purists may raise an eyebrow at some artist choices, others might find some jazz rather indigestible. But while the Thursday afternoon billing of ADQ was hard-core jazz and no apology, I suspect even non-jazz ears would have been moved by the quartet’s energy and commitment. ADQ comprises musical polymath Douglas himself on piano, rising London alto player Nathaniel Facey, and an enviable rhythm section of Gary Crosby on bass and Rod Youngs on drums. And boy could these guys swing! Whether it was on Alex’s tuneful, original compositions which opened the set, or a bold reworking of John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, ADQ sounded like a seasoned classic jazz line-up, coolly pacing through slow and fast numbers alike. Alex Douglas’s brief, modest prefatory remarks – to the effect that this was a work in progress – were immediately washed away by a high tide of musicianship.

The first two numbers were sparingly arranged tunes of a mellow blues or gospel character, with short and understated solos. Nathaniel Facey’s confident and controlled tone set my mind racing ahead to what we would later hear. This measured restraint and subtle use of the musical palette was a warm-up for the relentlessly building momentum over the 60 minutes. While ‘619’ was an up tempo hard bop work out, the band never lost its tight grip on the reins, and Rod Youngs’ soft and even softer drum solo was an inspiring alternative to the usual loud variety. Locked into each other by eye and ear, the band exhibited great mastery of dynamics and each ‘solo’ elicited sympathetic attention from the other musicians. These are the raw elements of jazz which can be acquired only with passion and devotion to that goal, which qualities are in fact all characteristics of the ‘Love Supreme’ masterpiece. ADQ played it in its entirety as the main part of the set. A brave choice in itself, this showed the band in all its splendour and visceral intensity, from the effortless synchrony of Gary Crosby and Rod Youngs as the rhythmic mainspring, to the balletic interplay of alto and piano. Alex Douglas fearlessly took us into deep harmonic waters in a lengthy and rich piano solo, while Nathaniel Facey paid homage to Coltrane in blistering style, his crisp tone thrilling all ears.

Improvisation at this level is not something one hears every week, and sometimes has to be sought out in a few cities or expensive, infrequent gigs. As well as showcasing new and diverse talents, MJF has in this case brought some great British jazz music to the streets of Manchester. This was a memorable performance and rapturously received by the audience.