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Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet

Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet, Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 02/11/2016.

Photography: Photograph of Andrew Bain by Martin Healey

by Sean Wilkie

November 07, 2016


Guest contributor Sean Wilkie enjoys the music of the "Embodied Hope" suite performed by a stellar international quartet led by drummer and composer Andrew Bain.

Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet

Dempsey’s Cardiff

Wednesday 2 November 2016

It’s not unusual for the jazz groups who play midweek, upstairs in Dempsey’s, to warm up gradually over the course of the evening’s first set. “Second set should be good”, opine resolute owls at the bar during the interval, content that the real magic of the day won’t be occurring before half past ten at night.  But sometimes it’s quite different, and this was definitely one of those occasions.

When the four musicians took to the floor at a quarter past nine, with an audience of around thirty already in attendance, they began playing with an intensity that did not abate for the fifteen-minute duration of the opening piece, “Accompaniment”, a tune built on long mournful tones from Jon Irabagon’s tenor sax, pianist George Colligan’s rippling runs across the keyboard and dramatic drum rolls and demanding interjections from every part of leader Andrew Bain’s kit, all underscored by Michael Janisch’s edgy bowing of his bass strings.  For the next six or seven minutes, as Irabagon persuasively stirred up the melee with his own long and winding ways from A to B, the music was anchored mainly by the ferocity of the main beat, with Colligan and Bain akin to the pairing of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones in Coltrane’s classic quartet; even if, in between each crashing ‘one’, the pianist sounded more akin to Tyner’s successor, Alice Coltrane.  And when the saxophonist finally stood aside, Colligan gave us clear indication of just how accomplished and individual he is, a compelling rhythmical logic always prominent through the hubbub of hyperactivity.

It’s difficult to review the performance any further without mentioning leader Andrew Bain’s facial expressions, which seemed to lay bare his intentions and to reflect upon how they’re coming out.  A red-haired Scotsman with ears that aren’t small and a passing resemblance to Andrew Marr, the drummer constantly looks as though he is thinking – hard – about each and every thing he plays, as he plays it.  Here, as “Accompaniment” neared its conclusion, and the ecstatic furore was replaced by something stiffer and more formal, we saw Bain’s pained expression hinting at the precision required, and his even-less-flattering tongue-out expression for the concentration involved in executing it.  Later, I caught a series of Loony Tunes-style expressions from the drummer, as he threw some falling-down-the-stairs fills at a reed-popping Irabagon during the release-sections of “Practice”, and the drum solo with which it concluded gave just cause for his tongue once more to protrude unflatteringly between his teeth.

The first set culminated with “Surprise” (which owed something to John Coltrane’s “Impressions”) - the longest yet of three long pieces.  Irabagon unleashed fierce and strident lines, and went back over them several times, then halving and quartering them, until a new idea seized him.  The band was by now swinging harder than the object of Mr. Davis’ favourite Oedipal epithet, and Colligan met the screaming overtones of the saxophone with some demented pianola-style cross-rhythms, before his own interventions brought a problem-solving expression to Bain’s eyes.  When the pianist stopped, he did so on a sixpence, and Michael Janisch accepted the opportunity to remind us just how funky and soulful he can be, whatever the context: his solo culminated with a grooving pattern of strong lines in the upper notes of the strings, which prefaced a lengthy exchange of eights and then fours, bringing the leader back to the fore and the whole band into interaction, before a Dolphy-ish melody brought to a close this mind-blowing fifty-five minute set.

Bain has a refreshing manner at the mic: many more-experienced bandleaders should take note of the fact that we clearly heard the name of each musician he introduced after the initial quarter-hour wall of sound, simply because he began the next introduction only after the applause for the previous one had finished.  Another musician betraying uncertainty about whether to call it a ‘composition’ or a ‘research project’ would sound pretentious, but when Bain explained that he had written for this group seven ‘movements’ corresponding to “each of the necessary aspects of embodied hope”, we had already been convinced of the sincerity of his efforts to compose for improvisers “and not handcuff them” and it seemed appropriate that he should have to struggle a little to find the right words for the impressive deeds that his group undertook.

If the influence of the Coltrane Quartet was palpable throughout the first set, the second foregrounded other sources of inspiration.  The drummer had already mentioned his long association with the saxophonist, and he began the second set by speaking about the passion which he and Irabagon shared when they first met as students in New York in 2001, for artists such as Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor and “that whole ECM vibe”.  Given this introduction, the first surprise during “Hope” came when, however briefly, Colligan rested his left hand and soloed right hand only, suddenly selective and considered about his note choices: a short passage, in contrast to most of what followed.  When Irabagon eventually departed the normal range of his instrument, he yo-yoed between the upper reaches and the bottom of his lower register without over-much pause, before drenching the music in evocations of gospel, South Africa, and those Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek ECM records.  The only thing missing was someone beating the living daylights out of a tambourine.  The influence of Wheeler and Taylor was clear enough, yes, but Azimuth this was not.
Two other movements completed the evening’s music (with one of the seven squeezed out of the tonight’s first set by the length of the three we heard).  “Listening” began from a considered abstraction reminiscent of Joe Harriott’s Free Form recordings, before its sharp and snake-like theme led to further full-on workouts for sax, piano and drums.

The evening concluded with “Trust”, which again evoked ECM and Garbarek with an attractive theme and the liquidity of Irabagon’s playing: at ten minutes’ length, this was the shortest performance of the night by some way.

The quartet will be recording the seven movements a few days hence; their next stop, however, was somewhere that Chicago Cubs fan, Jon Irabagon, could see the seventh and deciding game of baseball’s World Series, which started at or after midnight, UK time.  The Cubs won, I’m happy to report, ending their 108-year ‘drought’ – could this inspire the saxophonist to even greater heights when they record the Embodied Hope suite? 
Sometimes, an enquiry of the regulars about a previous week’s gig elicits a certain look, telling me that I should have been there; and that is the look we’ll give anyone who asks next week about this.  Catch them if you can, and let’s hope that Whirlwind boss Janisch brings them back to promote the album release.

Sean Wilkie


From Martin Healey via email;

Very loud and somewhat relentless!  Nevertheless a good set

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