Kairos 4tet, The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock, Shropshire, 15/10/2011.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A performance that saw the group stretching out further into jazz and improvised territory but without sacrificing any of their trademark melodicism.
Kairos 4tet, The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock, Shropshire, 15/10/2011.
This concert was Kairos 4tet’s first public performance since scooping the MOBO award for “Best Jazz Act” at the annual awards ceremony held this year at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre. I had tuned in to BBC 3’s live transmission specifically to see the quartet- saxophonist and bandleader Adam Waldmann, pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Jasper Hoiby and drummer Jon Scott- collect their award with Waldmann giving a succinct and intelligent thank you speech, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered to stick with the parade of rap and r’n'b acts that inevitably followed.
So once again congratulations to Adam, Ivo, Jasper and Jon on the winning of this prestigious award. I’d like to think that the Jazzmann may have played a small part in their success by our early recognition of the quality and potential expressed in the group’s self released 2009 début album “Kairos Moment”, recorded by Waldmann, Hoiby, Scott and original pianist Rob Barron. Waldmann’s highly melodic themes had an understated song like quality that gave the quartet an appeal that stretched beyond the normal jazz constituency and attracted a compelling amount of media attention. The group then consolidated their success with a move to Edition Records and a second album “Statement Of Intent” which, thanks in part to new pianist Ivo Neame, saw the group stretching out further into jazz and improvised territory but without sacrificing any of their trademark melodicism. Their audience stuck with them and Kairos 4tet remain one of the UK’s most popular new jazz acts, a position the MOBO award can only strengthen.
Tonight was my third live sighting of Kairos 4tet as a group, although I’ve seen the individual members many times in other contexts, and this was easily their best performance thus far. The award seemed to have given the group a confidence that wasn’t there before and the level of musical sophistication and group interaction was more pronounced than previously. Of course the venue helped, The Edge is always a great place for musicians to play with listening and attentive and invariably large audiences. Once again credit is also due to the venue’s resident sound engineer Peter Maxwell Dixon (a member of the city’s Cobweb Collective he also does the sound for many gigs in the Birmingham area) whose superior mix allowed every note, nuance and detail to be heard with pinpoint clarity. Drummer Jon Scott was particularly well served by Maxwell Dixon with every beat, accent and detail clearly audible.
Tonight’s selection of material was divided pretty much equally between the group’s two albums commencing with “Hymn For Her” from the début “Kairos Moment”. Although a lengthy piece the tune embodies many of the group’s lyrical qualities with its appealing soprano sax melodies, gently propulsive bass and piano grooves and delicately detailed drumming. Solos came from Waldmann on soprano and Neame at the piano, both probing intelligently within the highly melodic framework. For all the surface prettiness of Waldmann’s themes there are plenty of sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic ideas ideas going on within his attractive compositions. Waldmann then switched to tenor as the tune segued into “Philosophy Of Futility” from the more recent album “Statement Of Intent”. A more forceful tune this featured Waldmann’s tenor solo above Neame’s piano arpeggios and the first of a number of excellent solos from the always impressive Hoiby as Neame reached into the piano’s innards dampening the strings. Finally came a drum feature for Jon Scott, a rapidly maturing musician with an increasingly impressive reputation. “Statement Of Intent” signalled a growing political awareness on Waldmann’s behalf and he dedicated this tune to the anti capitalist protesters currently encamped at St. Paul’s Cathedral. However in a nice display of self deprecating humour he then informed us that CD’s were available in the foyer! Waldmann is an increasingly confident announcer of tunes, an assuredness that is doubtless the result of the group’s deserved success.
In Kairos’ early days Waldmann seemed to be something of a soprano specialist but these days he seems to divided his time more equally between his two horns. From the second album “Simpler Times” was a beautiful ballad featuring the leader’s breathy tenor that embraced all the group’s song like and lyrical virtues. With solos from Waldmann and Neame and sympathetic support from Hoiby and Scott the group held the audience spellbound with a brilliantly controlled performance.
The quartet closed the first half with “V.C.”, the tune which opens their début recording but which has become a regular first set closer. This is one of Waldmann’s most joyous and exuberant tunes (it means “Very Cheers” apparently) and here formed a vehicle for the composer’s sinuous soprano and Neame’s effusive piano as well as including a hand drumming feature for Scott. By Kairos’ standards this was a high energy finish to an excellent first set.
Russell’s Resurgence”, a dedication by Waldmann to his fellow saxophonist Russell Van Den Berg, is another of Kairos’ more up-tempo tunes and this provided an energetic introduction to the second set with solos coming from Waldmann on mercurial soprano, Neame at the piano, Hoiby on bass and finally Scott at the drums. However with its multifarious twists and turns incorporating several changes of dynamics this was far from being the head/solos/head affair the listing of solos might suggest. Here the piece was segued with Statement’s “The Calling” with Neame and Hoiby’s duet providing the bridge and with Waldmann switching to tenor. I’ve mentioned the “song-like” quality of Kairos’ music before and the album version of this tune features a vocal by Swedish singer Emilia Martensson who also contributed to the group’s “Kairos Moment” album. Indeed many of Waldmann’s tunes sound like songs without words and in Kairos’ case the often obligatory vocal track seems a perfectly natural consequence rather than a cynical marketing exercise. In the absence of Martensson a magnificently expressive bass solo from Hoiby filled the gap.
The quartet played the title tracks of both their albums, the first a brief, gentle coda to the previous segue with Waldmann on tenor. “Statement Of Intent” saw Waldmann moving to soprano for a piece that lived up to its title with significant statements from all four members of the group. They had intended to finish at this juncture but such was the audience reaction that they decided to remain on stage (rather than going through the whole “encore” ritual) and to close with the lovely ballad “Maybe Next Year”, which appears in song form on the second album with a vocal from Martensson. Here Waldmann’s tenor and Neame’s piano proved to be more than adequate substitutes in another sublime performance.
Since I saw them last Kairos have become more of a “band”. Musically Waldmann is less dominant than previously, often content to state the theme before letting his colleagues take the reins for long stretches. Hoiby was here last month as part of the quartet of Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset and it was interesting to make comparisons. The formidably technically gifted Neset seemed compelled to fill every space, a consequence perhaps of having studied and worked with Django Bates. Waldmann is positively reticent by comparison, largely eschewing orthodox jazz soloing let alone Neset’s pyrotechnics, but I found both approaches equally valid and loved the music of both groups. As my mate Steve Fletcher, who attended both gigs observed “it’s just that Waldmann is like Stan Getz to Neset’s John Coltrane”, a good comparison I think.
The fact that we can even draw such comparisons is thanks to The Edge’s artistic director Alison Vermee who continues to bring top British and international performers to rural Shropshire. A strong “Jazz Notes at The Edge” season runs until the end of May 2012 and the venue is also hosting folk and world music events. Visit http://www.edgeartscentre.co.uk for more details.
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