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Joe Northwood’s Tuk Tuk with Nick Malcolm

Joe Northwood’s Tuk Tuk with Nick Malcolm, Dempsey’s, Cardiff, 25/01/2017.

by Sean Wilkie

January 31, 2017


Guest contributor Sean Wilkie enjoys the second event of the monthly series featuring the trio Tuk Tuk working with different guest musicians, in this instance trumpeter Nick Malcolm.

Joe Northwood’s Tuk Tuk with Nick Malcolm

Upstairs at Dempsey’s, Cardiff

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Two months ago, Joe Northwood’s trio, Tuk Tuk, began a residency upstairs at Dempsey’s in Cardiff; the intention, a (roughly) monthly gig with a different guest musician each time.  For the second of these performances, the trio teamed-up with trumpeter Nick Malcolm - and although this collaboration included another lithe and springy wrangling of “Alone Together”, this was about the only similarity to last November’s show (a review of which may be found elsewhere on these pages).

The tone of Wednesday night’s first set was established early on, during the quartet’s rendition of Dave Douglas’ “Blues To Steve Lacy”: what would naturally have been taken for the beginning of a long solo by Malcolm was interrupted after nary a chorus by Northwood, not taking over but joining in.  Sometimes one horn or the other played and sometimes both; but what they created - the blues of this cold Cardiff night – was something they made together.  Douglas’ tune has a lovely, spare cast to it, evocative of some of the music that John Zorn wrote for the Masada group in which they played together.  The simultaneous, contrapuntal playing that Zorn and Douglas indulged in Masada deserves wider attention, and here it proved a fruitful way for Northwood and Malcolm to get to know each other.  The excitement was palpable and spread to drummer Paolo Adamo long before he capped their long duet with a thunderous roll.

The practice carried on into the first of Northwood’s originals, “Psychopomp” – a tune named after a Greek mythological being who carries the dead to the afterlife.  When playing together, the two men seemed effortlessly complementary: up and down, staccato and legato.  If Malcolm was breathy, Northwood was sharp, sour-toned.  If one was climbing, the other was peaking or falling.  And amidst this ever-thickening swirl of tones and inflections and contrasting registers, both Adamo and bassist Pete Komor found all the time and space they needed to make any number of salient contributions, rattling or reverberating through the squall of pipe and horn.

Komor was an eighth-hour replacement for regular Tuk Tuk bassist Aidan Thorne, and a good choice; Dempsey’s regulars will all attest to his fine sound, great timing, good taste and positive vibrations.  The first set concluded with two more contemporary covers: of Soweto Kinch’s “Trade” and Mark Guiliana’s “1980”.  In the former, Malcolm piled up unresolved upwards-inflected questions before prodigiously answering them one and all with some of his rawest and most soulful playing.  On “1980”, he built a persuasive solo very gradually from sparse couplets he hung at the outset upon Adamo and Komor’s shuffling beat: following him, Northwood took for granted what the trumpeter had painstakingly attained, his tenor sax soaring freely upon the odd accents of the tune.  It served to remind the thirty-odd members of the audience that the two horn-men could complement each other effectively even when playing in sequence. 

The first set was nearly an hour long, and the second proved longer still; even before the four musicians were persuaded to cap the night finally with Malcolm’s suggestion of an impromptu rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround”.

It began with what may have been the finest piece of the night.  Starting with a push or two from Pete Komor, Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” steadily built momentum under Northwood’s auspice; at first, faithful to the melody; latterly, as ecstatic and free as just about anything this side of the 1970s.  Malcolm’s response was sparse and reflective, with a long silence at the very beginning, to let some of the heat evaporate first from the rhythm section.  Paolo Adamo’s solo contribution hewed to the spirit of Monk with its melodic reference to the tune, before the leader returned to round off a hugely impressive piece.

Perhaps inevitably, what immediately followed - Northwood’s own “The Very Sneaky Ernest” (Earnest?) - was less successful, the unrelenting no-time of the soloing sections coming over as rather undifferentiated rhythmically.  The rest of the set, however, was of a very high standard.  Trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s “Dark Night, Dark Day” is a Tuk Tuk staple and lends itself well to pensive moments, as it did here.  Fain and Kahil’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” - introduced by the saxophonist as “a nice little standard” - produced some bright and curious, light and lineful stuff from Malcolm, a little bit more of the limelight for Pete Komor and a wild culmination in an exchange of fours, Adamo alternating with the other three musicians in turn.  The set ended with a final Dempsey’s outing for the first tune ever written for the trio, the eponymous “Tuk Tuk” – or would have, had its reception not proved so demanding of an encore.

I think all the musicians present were conscious that this was probably the last time ever they’ll perform in this room: Brenda O’Brien made a short and encouraging speech about her and Alistair’s desire to find a suitable alternative venue and she invited us all to a farewell party on Wednesday 1 February (which is NOT their final night at this historic venue - there will be gigs the following week).  Well, here’s hoping that Tuk Tuk’s residency can continue in another location.


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