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The Convergence Quartet

Live: Vortex, London; 27/04/2009

Photography: Tim Dickeson/

by Tim Owen

May 03, 2009


Art music with enough mainstream signifiers to satisfy any culturally aware audience. Catch the Convergence Quartet while you can

Although two of its members are British, the Convergence quartet could be considered as part of a particular tributary of American Jazz, following in the footsteps of artists such as Dave Brubeck and Anthony Braxton: first-world third-stream composers with one eye on the deeper river of free jazz and African and American traditional music. There’s a studiousness about them leavened by a light touch that vitalises their work and makes it approachable and, more importantly, enjoyable for the ?casual’ listener. I don’t expect Convergence to drop the new Take Five any day soon, but they do have a bang-up-to-the-minute group sound that blends multiple idioms with compositional rigour, and an approach to performance that is deceptively casual, though you can almost see the next development forming in their minds; their music is evidently still in evolution. They close tonight’s first set with the latest variation of a composition that Lash has undertaken for his PhD, ?Representations 12’. They are all young but have formidable CVs, Ho Bynum notably having played and recorded with Braxton, and Eisenstadt having been in the Vista trio alongside Sam Rivers. Lash recently contributed to the fierce free jazz of the superb ?Monster Club (reviewed elsewhere on this site) alongside Tony Bevan and Chris Corsano; I’ve since seen him perform at nearby Café Oto kneeling, his double bass on its back on the floor, complementing the ?percussion’ of gently snapped twigs and rustled paper. Together as the Convergence Quartet the distinct personalities of the quartet’s members mesh beautifully. 

The Convergence Quartet reference innumerable influences but do so obliquely, never stooping to the level of quotation or parody. Tonight they cover an Orchestra Baobab tune (I recognised it, though realisation came too slowly for naming; it was unanticipated), and Leroy Jenkins’ Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short), rendered doubly elegiac by Jenkin’s recent death. They encore with a piece by Mongezi Feza, reminding me that pianist Alexander Hawkins has recently been recruited into the Foxes quartet, alongside Feza’s Blue Note compatriot Louis Moholo, Evan Parker and John Edwards. It’s no surprise that Hawkins recently outed himself on his blog as a big fan of Henry Threadgill; some of that elder statesman’s rigorous idiosyncrasy has rubbed off on him. Hawkins’ piano is crucial to the Convergence sound, constantly signposting the most satisfyingly melodic avenues for development. Cornetist Bynum by contrast seldom plays out with clarity, pursuing instead a gutturally textural, tight-lipped approach. The contrast can be remarkable, evoking rich associations in the listener’s mind. In unsuccessfully trying to pinpoint that Orchestra Baobab number, in which Hawkins played inside piano and Bynum was muted, I noted a sound “blearily evocative of Harlem?as in a cinematic dream sequence”. More often the music has sharp transitions between forcefully melodic and subtly free passages. A set highlight for me was Ho Bynum’s Iris, which began perkily (like audio, I thought, for some notional surrealist cartoon), then continued with a percussive duet for bass and drums, and then a bluesy cornet and piano dialogue in which the piano was sprightly, the cornet woozy. The concluding solo piano coda put me in mind of Nancarrow’s player-piano boogie.

The quartet can be impressionistic and fragmented in one piece then propulsive and boisterous in the next. These are players for whom free jazz is as firmly within the Jazz tradition as is bebop, and fusion for that matter, though as with Braxton they don’t seem particularly interested in Miles Davis’ legacy after In A Silent Way. There are no allusions to alt. rock, hip-hop or repetitive beats; nevertheless their sound is fiercely contemporary. If you wonder where Jazz is at today, where it has evolved to, then here’s one answer. The four personalities of the quartet are at a point where they are meshing beautifully. Theirs is art music with enough mainstream signifiers to satisfy any culturally-aware audience. Look into their current activities, however, and you will find that for Ho Bynum, Hawkins, Lash and Eisenstadt the Convergence Quartet is just one gig among many. Hawkins, for example, has recently launched his own Ensemble, a sextet also featuring Lash. Catch the Convergence Quartet while you can.

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