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Liam Noble Quartet & Julian Arguelles Trio

Liam Noble Quartet & Julian Arguelles Trio

by Ian Mann

October 30, 2006


One or too moments were a little too esoteric but on the whole there was a good balance between adventurousness and accessibility and there was much to enjoy in both the playing and the writing.

This was the penultimate date of a short British tour featuring this intriguing double bill. The tour coincides with the release of Arguelles’ superb new trio album “Partita” on Basho records. Liam Noble’s excellent quartet album “Romance Among The Fishes” was released by Basho last year and has been reviewed elsewhere on this site.

American drummer Tom Rainey appears on both albums and with his fellow countryman John Hebert (bass) he plays two sets tonight, firstly with pianist Noble and guitarist Phil Robson and then in a trio format with Arguelles (tenor sax).

The seeds for these collaborations were sown when Cheltenham Jazz Festival commissioned Noble to write music for a quartet consisting of himself, Robson, Rainey and US bassist Drew Gress. The music was aired at the 2004 festival to great success and formed the basis for the resulting album “Romance Among The Fishes”. The collaboration between British and American players is something Basho records are keen to encourage and Rainey subsequently appeared on Arguelles’ album alongside his fellow American, the bassist Michael Formanek. Both albums were recorded in New York, a great experience for the British players.

On a particularly unpleasant wet and windy Wednesday night there is a good turn out and the MAC’s comfortable theatre space is nearly full. It is very encouraging to see so many young faces in the audience, mainly students on Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course I suspect. In a constantly evolving art form it’s good to know a new generation of musicians and fans is coming through.

There is a spontaneous round of applause for promoter Tony Dudley Evans as he steps up to announce the first band. This is richly deserved as the tireless Tony has done so much to promote jazz in the Midlands and he has always embraced the more adventurous aspects of the music. Birmingham Jazz celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. A tremendous achievement. In recent years he has also taken on the role of Artistic Director of the highly successful and prestigious Cheltenham Jazz Festival. His imaginative programming has been a major factor in its success.

Liam Noble’s quartet is the first band to appear. They use material entirely drawn from the album “Romance Among The Fishes” as a basis for improvisation. The opening “Enchante” features the unison lines of Noble and Robson, often sounding like one instrument and the busy drumming of Rainey. As the piece unfolds Robson and then Noble allow themselves some solo space.

“Therapy” commences with Noble’s glacial solo piano and features him utilising the instrument’s innards. Rainey joins in on brushes and as the piece builds in intensity Hebert contributes a rich, resonant solo and Robson follows making use of his foot pedals to add to the eerie atmosphere of the piece. A solo drum passage provides the link into “Bluebear” a more up-tempo composition featuring comparatively straight-ahead solos from Robson and finally Noble himself. His highly percussive style is shown to good effect here.

Noble proves to be a good interlocutor between tunes giving just enough information on the story behind the compositions for them to make sense but without ever becoming rambling or self indulgent. He has a wry sense of humour that is very engaging.

“The Bunker” was inspired by his trip to New York to record the album and a visit to the site of William Burroughs’s old house. Robson coaxes some appropriately otherworldly effects from his foot pedals and displays his rock influences in a powerful solo.

Robson also shows up strongly on the album’s title track. This segues into “Jitters” which opens the album but closes the set here. The lightning fast unison runs of Noble and Robson, which are one of this quartet’s major characteristics, are particularly evident here.

Throughout the set Rainey and Hebert provide superb support to the front line soloists. Rainey is a busy ,imaginative and responsive player. He drums with a superb combination of power, subtlety and technical expertise. These qualities put me in mind of Britain’s own Seb Rochford. Hebert who has only got to know this music over the course of the tour holds things together brilliantly and proves himself to be an excellent intuitive bass player.

Rainey and Hebert are to be even busier after the interval when they play with Julian Arguelles. With only one front line instrument they become even more involved in the improvisational process. Unlike the album where he also plays soprano sax, bass clarinet and flutes Arguelles limits himself to tenor sax this evening. He does not restrict himself just to tunes from the latest album but also performs some even newer compositions. The inspiration for this project came from similar saxophone trios such as those of Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, and early Jan Garbarek. With no chordal instrument it represents a challenging but rewarding format for the musicians who function very much as equal partners.

Arguelles begins with “Peace For D” from “Partita”. His unaccompanied tenor sax is joined first by Rainey on brushes and as the piece grows in intensity the drumming becomes increasingly dynamic. The dextrous Hebert solos effectively and Arguelles is superb throughout. He has complete mastery over his instrument and even in the most complex or robust moments his playing appears effortless.

The trio then segues two tunes together. Both are new and as yet unrecorded. The first has the working title “Open Letter”. This of course was also the title of a Loose Tubes album on which Arguelles appeared in his (and my) youth. It features Garbarek style tenor from Arguelles and some more dramatic drumming from Rainey. Hebert’s unaccompanied bass provides the bridge into “Dewey’s Bolereas” a dedication to the great American saxophonist Dewey Redman who sadly died earlier this year. The music itself is based on Spanish Flamenco music. There is a distinct Spanish tinge to the sound but there are also bluesy slurs from Arguelles’ tenor. Rainey’s percussion clatters and chatters in an approximation of the Flamenco dance steps. He is a player who utilises every aspect of his kit for making sounds, skins, rims, metals and anything else you can imagine. Besides the more orthodox sticks and brushes he also drums with his hands and even his elbows! However there is more to this than mere theatricality as the results are always highly musical.

Another segue follows, this time combining two tunes from the new album. “Lesters” is a dedication to Arguelles’ young nephew of that name and also of course “Pres”, the late, great Lester Young. Arguelles introduces vocal overtones to his playing and Hebert’s use of the bow is brief but effective. Arguelles’ unaccompanied tenor ushers in “Triality” a tricky piece in F sharp minor based around the number three. Three sections, 3/8 time etc. It is the most Colemanesque piece so far and incorporates a Rainey solo of incredible power of dexterity.

Like Noble before him Arguelles’ announcements of tunes are dry and pithy and carry just the right of information. To close the trio combine “Peace For Jess” from Arguelles’ previous album “As Above So Below” with “Arco Iris” from “Partita”. The first tune is a ballad with a stately theme. Arguelles’ tenor is tender and eloquent and this is a piece of real beauty. Hebert’s muscular bass soloing over Rainey’s cymbal accompaniment takes us into “Arco Iris” The songs title means “Rainbow” in Portugese, a nod to Arguelles’ ancestry. It doesn’t feature any arco bass but there is some full-blooded tenor from Arguelles and yet another audacious solo from Rainey.

This brings the evening to a conclusion. It has been a wonderful return to his hometown for Arguelles. He is a master saxophonist and all round reed player and also an excellent composer as a string of fine albums has revealed. His sound remains unmistakably English but working in this trio format has also brought out the best in his American collaborators who have been even more closely integrated than they were with Noble’s quartet. Both sets have been hugely enjoyable but for these reasons and his own peerless playing Arguelles gets the nod.

As a whole it has been a fascinating evening of complex and innovative music from a genuine double bill. One or too moments were a little too esoteric but on the whole there was a good balance between adventurousness and accessibility and there was much to enjoy in both the playing and the writing.

Both Liam Noble’s “Romance Among The Fishes” and Julian Arguelles’ “Partita” are highly recommended.

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