Dagda Quartet with Jean Toussaint, The Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 26/04/2012.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Ian Mann enjoys a performance from the Dagda Quartet and their guest Jean Toussaint and also takes a look at their debut album.
Dagda Quartet with Jean Toussaint, Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury, 26/04/2012
DAGDA are a young quartet led by alto saxophonist and composer Tom Harrison, at the time of writing still a student on the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music. His three youthful colleagues are recent graduates from the parallel course at Trinity and comprise of guitarist Billy Adamson, double bassist Tom West and drummer Mike Clowes. The quartet have recently completed an extensive UK tour of which Shrewsbury was one of the final dates. They have been playing music from their eponymous début album recently released on Irish drummer David Lyttle’s Lyte Records label.
A number of pieces on the album feature the playing of guest saxophonist Michael Buckley with the experienced Irishman adding both tenor and soprano to the core group sound. With Buckley unavailable for the tour DAGDA have appeared with a variety of guest instrumentalists including trombonist Tom White and saxophonists Joe Wright, Paul Booth and Jean Toussaint. Tom Harrison told me that the tour had been very successful with an audience of over 100 for the official album launch date at The Forge in Camden and a staggering 300 at The Drill Hall in Lincoln. Apparently a music industry convention was taking place in the city and Harrison was delighted to get the opportunity to present his music to a number of influential industry figures (promoters, agents etc.). My friend at Cardiff Jazz, Roger Warburton, also told me of an enjoyable, if less well attended, event at Dempsey’s with guest Paul Booth making a substantial contribution.
Unfortunately Shrewsbury was not one of the most memorable nights of the tour in terms of audience numbers. Inclement weather plus the rival attraction of gypsy jazz guitarist Robin Nolan’s trio playing just up the road at the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse combined to keep numbers down to a sparse twenty or so but those of us who turned out were impressed with what we heard. The Gateway, a modern education and performance arts centre was one Shrewsbury venue I’d not visited before but I found it to be comfortable and friendly and I hope to get the opportunity visit again for future jazz events.
The bulk of the material played by tonight’s line up was mainly sourced from the “DAGDA” album with the second half of the evening largely given over to Harrison’s five part “Suite For RLH”, a dedication to his late grandfather. The album reveals Harrison to already be a remarkably mature composer, his post bop jazz coloured by a strong folk element plus occasional borrowings from rock. The free programme produced for the evening cited a long list of influences including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Phil Woods, John Coltrane, Jonathan Kreisberg, Nick Drake, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Q-Tip and The Velvet Underground. I’m not sure that I picked up on all of these, I got the jazzers and Drake for sure, but I guess it gives a clear indication of the youngsters’ choice of listening. Although Harrison is the main writer the finished product comes about as the result of communal discussion and improvisation with the aim of developing each piece organically. It’s a process that works well on the evidence of both the album and tonight’s performance.
The first set commenced with the boppish, angular theme of Harrison’s “NLTD”, a piece inspired by the writings of Jack London and one that appears to borrow from Coltrane’s “Resolution” (from “A Love Supreme”). Solos here came from Harrison on alto, Adamson at the guitar and Toussaint on tenor, all fuelled by Clowes’ powerful drumming. The brother of saxophonist Trish Clowes, leader of the group Tangent, (who it is hoped will be featured at The Gateway in October 2012) Mike Clowes is originally a Shropshire lad and was obviously known to some members of the audience. It’s just a shame that his return clashed with that of Nolan, another local hero.
Next up was another Harrison original, as yet untitled, introduced by solo bass of Tom West. Harrison and Toussaint sketched long sax lines above Adamson’s guitar shadings before the piece increased in intensity via solos from Harrison on alto and Toussaint on tenor to culminate in a rousing guitar/drums exchange that drew heavily on the group’s rock influences. This was an impressive piece of writing that drew on a wide emotional, dynamic and stylistic range.
Harrison and Adamson sat out for the much loved standard “Body And Soul” which acted as a feature for the consummate talents of former Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint. Brought up in the US Virgin Islands Toussaint studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and joined Art Blakey’s famous group in 1982 and stayed for four years. Toussaint came to London in 1987 to teach at The Guildhall School of Music and has since made the UK his base. He is now an integral part of the British jazz scene and has released nine albums as a leader. With sympathetic backing from Clowes (first with brushes, then with sticks) and West Toussaint took the opportunity to demonstrate just what a fluent tenor soloist he is, his tone warm and expressive throughout. His masterclass was punctuated by a dexterous and resonant solo from the increasingly impressive West.
I first heard Billy Adamson as a member of the Sarah Gillespie group that recorded the acclaimed 2009 album “Stalking Juliet”. His “Song In C”, the only non-Harrison original on the “DAGDA” album closed the first half as Toussaint left the stage to the core quartet. Adamson’s subtly effects enhanced solo guitar opened the piece before a folk tinged, song like theme subsequently emerged and formed the jumping off point for solos from both Harrison and the composer. This concluded an enjoyable first half from the highly promising young group and their illustrious guest.
The second half featured “Suite For RLH” in its entirety and was, if anything, more impressive with the interplay between Harrison and Toussaint particularly impressive on the densely written charts. “Movement I” began with Toussaint’s solo soprano sax before reaching out to embrace more expansive writing. A subtle folk tinge was again present in the melody that formed the basis for solos from Harrison and Adamson.
Adamson’s solo guitar opened the second movement before the twin horns of Harrison (alto) and Toussaint (tenor) stated the theme. Adamson ensured that an undercurrent of funk was bubbling away throughout the piece, forming the backdrop for a bass solo from West and then lengthy, soaring statements from Harrison and Toussaint, both saxophonists producing some of their most unfettered soloing of the evening.
The brief third movement represented something of a pastoral interlude and a pause for breath. It was important to Harrison that he adequately illustrated all sides of his grandfather’s personality.
The lively fourth movement began with tricky, boppish unison horn lines and propulsive, subtly rock influenced guitar from Adamson. West’s driving bass lines provided the spring board for fiery solos from Adamson, Toussaint on tenor and Harrison on alto. Thrilling stuff with Toussaint’s tenor solo particularly impressive.
The final movement began with West at the bass and featured Toussaint moving between soprano and tenor. Although initially rather sombre in nature the piece metamorphosed into a feature for Clowes at the drums. This talented young musician impressed throughout, negotiating the sometimes tricky twists and turns of Harrison’s writing with aplomb. Here he circumnavigated his kit above a recurring horn motif to bring the suite to a dramatic conclusion. A small but enthusiastic audience was still ready for more and the quintet romped their way joyously through “Tenor Madness” by way of an encore. This represented West’s first chance of the evening to play an orthodox “walking” bass line and he provided the necessary propulsion for exuberant solos from Toussaint, Harrison and Adamson plus a series of drum breaks from Clowes as he traded fours with the two saxophonists. This was a fun way to round off a very enjoyable evening.
There weren’t really sufficient audience numbers to make this evening a great “event” but I saw enough to realise that Harrison and his young colleagues are talented young musicians with bright futures ahead of them. This is confirmed by the “DAGDA” album which is a good demonstration of Harrison’s impressive abilities as a writer. Adamson’s highly melodic “Song In C” is also hugely enjoyable and the album programme is completed by an astonishingly mature interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing”. It’s a shame we didn’t get to hear this at Shrewsbury, it would have fitted neatly in to the rather brief first half.
I’ll continue to keep an eye on Tom Harrison and his colleagues. I’m sure that we’ll be hearing much more from them both individually and collectively. As for Jean Toussaint this was a timely reminder of just what a fine saxophonist he is and it’s good to see him taking the time to nurture young talent, much in the spirit of his former boss Art Blakey. Toussaint’s latest album “Live In Paris And London” recorded with a first class band including pianist Andrew McCormack, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller is also well worth a listen and contains an excellent batch of Toussaint originals plus a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”.
Since this review was first published Lance Liddle has written a glowing review of the Dagda Quartet’s final date in Newcastle for his jazz blog Bebop Spoken Here. Focussing in the main on Toussaint’s contribution Lance made the performance his “gig of the year” thus far. Go to http://www.lance-bebopspokenhere.blogspot.com
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