by Ian Mann
July 18, 2017
A triumph for the band and a further vindication of SJN’s ambitious programming policy. The playing, from all members of the group, was exceptional, both individually and collectively.
Misha Mullov-Abbado Group, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 15/07/2017.
Following the triumphant appearance of the young quintet Jam Experiment at the June club night Shrewsbury Jazz Network came up trumps again with another performance from a young, vibrant group of musicians with the focus again entirely on original material.
Tonight’s band was a London based sextet led by double bassist and composer Misha Mullov-Abbado. A former winner of the Kenny Wheeler Music Prize Mullov-Abbado is the son of the Russian classical violinist Viktoria Mullova and the late Italian conductor Claudio Abbado.
Despite his distinguished classical lineage he has opted to pursue a jazz career and has studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music in London where his double bass tutors included such well known jazz names as Jasper Hoiby, Tom Herbert, Michael Janisch and Jeremy Brown.
In 2015 Mullov_Abbado released his début album “New Ansonia” on the Edition record label. Although primarily a jazz recording this was a release that also embraced his classical heritage and included guest appearances from his mother on violin and his step-father Matthew Barley on cello. The album received a compelling amount of critical acclaim and Mullov-Abbado’s group also began to gain an impressive reputation for the quality of their live performances.
In June 2017 Mullov-Abbado issued a follow up, “Cross Platform-Interchange”, again on the Edition label. This was more obviously a ‘jazz’ record and placed the emphasis more firmly on Mullov-Abbado’s regular working group. The majority of the band members are alumni of the Royal Academy and tonight’s line up included album personnel James Davison (trumpet & flugel), Matthew Herd (alto sax), Liam Dunachie (keyboard) and Scott Chapman (drums). Tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock stood in for regular incumbent Sam Rapley and even though it was Hitchcock’s first appearance with this particular line-up he was already familiar to the other members of the band thanks to their shared membership of the large ensemble the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. In November 2016 I was fortunate enough to witness an EFG London Jazz Festival performance by the PJO, featuring all of tonight’s musicians at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea.
Tonight’s show was the first date of a British tour in support of the new album and a pleasingly large and supportive Shrewsbury audience helped to ensure that the tour got off to great start. The presence of Ludlow born musician Dunachie in the group’s ranks encouraged local support and the presence of several members of his family helped to boost the size of the crowd. It really was a remarkably good turn out on such a glorious summer’s evening and with Wimbledon on the telly.
Over the course of two sets of material written exclusively by Mullov-Abbado the group explored compositions from both albums as well as some newer, as yet unrecorded pieces.
It was one of these that opened the show, the highly melodic “Some Things Are Just So Simple” which immediately demonstrated Mullov-Abbado’s ear for a good tune. Introduced by the composer at the bass the piece developed logically and organically with the gradual addition of piano and drums and finally the three horns, tenor, alto and trumpet. The way in which Mullov-Abbado varied his writing for the horns was consistently impressive, artfully blending all three together or exploring all the possible configurations and permutations as Davison, Herd and Hitchcock skilfully weaved their way in and out of the fabric of the music. Good ears and advanced sight reading skills are essential qualities in this band, and yet, for all its sophistication, the music never felt stilted or unnecessarily complex. There’s an essential joyousness about the group’s music, especially on the most recent album. Of course Mullov-Abbado also allows the individual members of the group plenty of room in which to express themselves and here we enjoyed expansive solos from Hitchcock on big toned tenor, Dunachie adopting an acoustic piano sound on his Nord keyboard, and finally Herd on subtly probing alto.
From Mullov-Abbado’s first album came “Circle Song” which emerged out of an introductory bass and piano duet to incorporate unison horn melody lines over the gentle patter of hand drums. Solos came from Herd, who here deployed a softer tone on alto, and Davison on sleek, fluent flugel horn.
From the most recent album came “Pure 100% Nunnery”, a tune which the composer announced as being “the story of two nuns and a Ferrari driver”. Introduced by Chapman’s brushed drums the piece combined a bluesy, late night feel shot through with an English sense of whimsy. The two saxes caroused together and exchanged solos before the addition of Davison’s high register trumpet really saw the music revving up with the horn section coming on like a mini big band. This led to a freely structured ‘car crash’ section that resolved itself with a passage that sounded like Charles Mingus visiting New Orleans. This was great fun, and left both the musicians and the audience feeling somewhat breathless.
From the same album “Still, Hidden Morning” represented something of a pause for breath. Described by Mullov-Abbado as “a sad song with a glimmer of hope at the end” the piece began with the composer’s bass melody over sparse piano chording before moving on to encompass long horn melody lines played by a combination of tenor, alto and flugel over a backdrop of bass, piano and brushed drums. A change of direction then saw Mullov-Abbado’s melodic bass motif and Chapman’s implacable brushed drum grooves forming the bedrock for Dunachie’s piano solo as the horns harmonised behind him.
The first set concluded with the title track from the “New Ansonia” album, again introduced by the combination of bass and piano. Mullov-Abbado then impressed hugely with a double bass solo that combined a huge tone with a phenomenal dexterity. Davison’s trumpet solo combined fluency with a strident brassiness that recalled such fallen heroes as Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. Hitchcock followed with a tenor solo that again emphasised his big, powerful sound. He was excellent throughout and fitted into the group seamlessly.
The Shrewsbury audience were suitably enthused by the quality of the first set and the second was, if anything, even better. The group hit the ground running with “Lock, Stock & Shuffle”, a tune from the “New Ansonia” album. Introduced by a Blakey-esque drum roll from Chapman this piece saw the group coming on like a modern day Jazz Messengers with the three horns operating in unison prior to powerfully authoritative solos from Hitchcock on tenor and Davison on trumpet. Chapman continued in the Blakey role with an explosive concluding drum feature which clearly delighted the crowd.
The impressionistic new tune “L’il Bear” calmed things down with Mullov-Abbado’s solo bass introduction subsequently augmented by Chapman’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles then by long, breathy alto and flugel melody lines. Coming full circle the piece ended with a further passage of unaccompanied bass.
The title track of “Cross-Platform Interchange” references both Mullov-Abbado’s love of trains and the travails of lugging his bass around on the London Underground. It’s a piece that has also been performed by the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. This multi-faceted composition began here with the sounds of piano and drums before Herd sketched the opening melody on keening alto before being joined by the other two horns as the piece gathered momentum. Dunachie opened the soloing on piano before switching to an organ sound as he accompanied Herd’s soaring alto. This reminded me of Dunachie’s superb performance on organ at the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny when he deputised brilliantly for Ross Stanley as part of the Dennis Rollins Trio.
Also from the recent release came “Waves”, one of the album’s lengthiest and most ambitious pieces and one that demonstrates Mullov-Abbado’s mastery of narrative and dynamics. Tonight’s performance developed out of Hitchcock’s gospel tinged solo tenor sax intro and incorporated further solos from the leader on double bass and Hitchcock on tenor. Next came an engaging duo dialogue between Herd on alto and Dunachie on piano which then evolved into a more conventional jazz solo from the saxophonist. With Davison on flugel the three horns brought the music to a peak of intensity prior to a gentler coda.
An extended version of “Hair Of The Bop”, the concluding track on the new album, also closed this show with features for all the group members as the band took the opportunity to wig out. It didn’t quite happen but I sensed that some of the audience members (yes, you Claudia) were almost ready to get up and dance. Mullov-Abbado introduced the piece at the bass and Hitchcock on tenor and Herd on alto kick then started the bravura soloing. They were followed by Dunachie at the piano, Davison on trumpet and, finally, Chapman at the drums, his feature underpinned by Mullov-Abbado’s propulsive bass motif. These displays of individual and collective virtuosity were accorded a terrific reception from the Shrewsbury crowd with several audience members getting to their feet to applaud the band.
The deserved encore saw Mullov-Abbado choosing to calm things down again and sending us home on a gentle note. From the first album the title of “Real Eyes Realise Real Lies” reflects Mullov-Abbado’s love of word play but is also a stunningly beautiful piece of music, a richly textured ensemble piece which here again revealed Mullov-Abbado’s arranging skills with its rich blend of horns as Davison again switched to flugel. The introductory interplay between bass, piano and drums was also impressive and later solos came from Mullov-Abbado on double bass and Herd on alto.
Tonight’s performance was a triumph for the band and a further vindication of SJN’s ambitious programming policy. The playing, from all members of the group, was exceptional, both individually and collectively. But it was the quality of Mullov-Abbado’s writing that arguably impressed most of all. His gift for melody combined with his colourful arrangements to create music that was both adventurous and accessible, of the tradition but still highly personal and thoroughly contemporary. The audience were captivated by the combination of youthful zeal with superior, classically honed technique.
My thanks to Misha and the other members of the group for speaking with me afterwards. On this evidence the ongoing tour is set to be a terrific success and should win the sextet many new friends.
The remaining tour dates are;
Thu 20/07, 8:00 pm @ St Columba’s Church, Cambridge
Mon 24/07, 8:00 pm @ The Wonder Inn, Manchester (free admission)
Tue 25/07, 8:00 pm @ The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
Wed 26/07, 8:45 pm @ The Lescar, Sheffield
For further information please visit http://www.mishamullovabbado.com
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