by Ian Mann
April 28, 2023
Ian Mann enjoys this performance by drummer / composer Tristan Banks and his quartet and takes a look at his recently released album "View From Above".
Tristan Banks Quartet, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 27/04/2023.
Tristan Banks – drums, percussion, composer, Tom Smith – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute, John Crawford – keyboard, Davide Mantovani – double bass
The latest event in the Music Spoken Here series hosted by Evesham based promoter Dave Fuller at the Marr’s Bar featured a quartet led by the Brighton based drummer and composer Tristan Banks.
It was the final date of a short UK tour in support of Banks’ latest recording, the album “View From Above”, released on Ubuntu Music on March 31st 2023.
“View From Above” features ten original compositions and the majority of these were performed this evening over the course of two enjoyable sets by a band that also featured album personnel John Crawford (piano) and Davide Mantovani (double bass). The album line up is completed by saxophonist / flautist Paul Booth, a phenomenally busy session musician who was unavailable tonight as he was touring with a more commercial project elsewhere.
It had been intended that Tom Barford would replace him, but with Barford also unable to appear due to illness the woodwind chair eventually went to Tom Smith, like Barford a rising star on the UK jazz scene. Smith had only met his new bandmates the day before and the material was all new to him, but he rose to the challenge magnificently, demonstrating his impressive sight reading skills and soloing with a remarkable confidence and fluency in a display of great musicianship, especially in view of the fact that I’d previously though of him as an alto specialist.
Like Booth Banks is an in demand session musician who plays across a variety of musical genres. Among the artists with whom he has performed are Roy Ayers, Dave Valentin, David Gilmour, Steve Winwood, Marcos Valle, Mike Lindup, Robert Miles, Terry Callier, Maya Andrade, Beverley Knight and Robin Millar.
His jazz credentials include work with trumpeter Guy Barker, saxophonist Peter King, guitarist Jim Mullen, pianist / vocalist Liane Carroll and vocalist Carleen Anderson. He has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages due to his contributions to recordings by the bands TRYPL and Bansangu Orchestra, two ensembles that also feature the talents of Paul Booth. Reviews of albums by both of these bands can be found elsewhere on this site.
In addition to his work as a musician, composer and educator Banks also finds the time to manage and curate the programme at Brighton’s celebrated Verdict Jazz Club, having taken over the reins at the venue in 2022.
Banks spent some time living in Brazil and the music on “View From Above” reflects his fascination with both Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms, but within the context of an acoustic jazz quartet. Long standing collaborators Crawford and Mantovani have similarly wide ranging musical interests, as does Booth, and both are bandleaders in their own right and each has solo albums reviewed elsewhere on this site. Smith also leads his groups and issued the self-released septet album “Selections” in 2015. He is currently writing for a big band and hopes to record this music in due course, although financing the project remains something of an issue. I’d love to hear this, so let’s hope he succeeds.
Smith was thrown in at the deep end, playing flute on the opening “Capelinhas”, the title a reference to the small wayside chapels to be found in Brazil. Banks’ infectious Brazilian style grooves and Smith’s breezy flute combined well on a vivacious piece that embraced plenty of rhythmic and melodic complexity. Smith took the first solo, followed by Crawford, whose electric keyboard remained on an acoustic piano setting throughout the evening. Crawford has a comprehensive knowledge of a variety of piano styles (Latin, Brazilian, Tango), making him the perfect choice for this project. He’s also adept at Middle Eastern and North African styles and was recently seen performing music inspired by this part of the globe as a member of cellist Shirley Smart’s trio.
With this being a drummer led band it was only fitting that this first number should end with a feature for Banks himself, a powerful salvo that demonstrated his considerable abilities behind the kit.
Next came the album title track, a punchier, more muscular affair with Smith now installed on gutsy tenor sax. Smith shared the solos with Crawford, who adopted a more percussive piano style on this piece, with his strong left hand rhythmic patterns forming a characteristic component of his solo. The soloists were spurred on by Banks’ busy, complex rhythms, the leader a constant whirlwind of activity behind the drums. The album cover demonstrates another aspect of Banks’ talent and is an intriguing image of the remains of Brighton’s fire damaged West Pier photographed by Banks from the air - a “View From Above”.
The title of the tune “Polycephaly” references the fact that ts is essentially a composition with two contrasting melodic ‘heads’, one described by the loquacious Banks as “laid back”, the other as “crazy”. This occasioned yet another change of instrument for Smith, who this time switched to soprano sax as he shared the solos with Crawford. Collectively the quartet managed to give expression to both aspects of the piece.
Inspired by the dystopian visions of the film of the same name “Ex Machina” was a punchy, densely rhythmic, highly intense affair driven by the leader’s drums. At one juncture Smith’s belligerent tenor sax soloing was accompanied by Banks’ drums only in a fleeting ‘Binker & Moses moment’.
The first set concluded with “Flex (For Dexter”, a dedication to the leader’s brother Dexter Banks. Could he have been named after Dexter Gordon, one wonders. This was an up tempo Latin tune notable for its scintillating tenor sax / piano exchanges and Crawford’s subsequent soloing.
The second half kicked off with Banks returning to the stage alone to deliver an extended solo drum feature that included extensive use of cowbell within the impressive polyrhythmic onslaught as he demonstrated his impressive technique.
He was eventually joined by his bandmates as the solo segued into the composition “Cidade Alta”, with Smith featuring on flute. The title means “High Town” and is named for an upland district of Olinda, a town on Brazil’s north east coast. Incorporating the Baiao rhythm of the area the piece incorporated solos from Smith on airy flute and Crawford at the piano as a little Brazilian sunshine brightened up a rainy Thursday night in Worcester.
Given that this was a drummer driven band it wasn’t too surprising to find that much of the music was intensely rhythmic. With Smith reverting to tenor sax “Possible Bossa” was as close as the quartet got to a ballad, but even with the group at its most laid back there was still a certain energy about the performance. Here Mantovani, hitherto the anchor of the group, stepped out of the shadows to deliver a melodic and highly dexterous double bass solo that was very well received by the Marr’s Bar crowd. Smith followed on increasingly assertive tenor sax.
“Dust Devil” was the first of two tunes to reference meteorological phenomena and featured Smith with a suitably swirling, deeply probing, soprano sax solo. It was also appropriate that Banks should be back in whirlwind mode with a powerful drum feature underpinned by Crawford’s recurring Latin style piano vamp.
Named for the Spanish word for “storm” the energy levels were maintained on the following “Tempesta”, the closing track on the new album. Banks described the piece as “a fusion of Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz harmonies”, which actually sums up the band’s overall approach pretty accurately. The piece was also scheduled to conclude the show here and was a high energy offering that included a powerful tenor sax solo from Smith and a further drum feature from the leader.
By this point the quartet had performed nine of the album’s ten tracks. The piece that didn’t feature was “Flutter”, a tune that combines Brazilian flavourings with funky electric bass and which features Booth on soprano sax. Mantovani only had his double bass with him so the quartet opted to encore with “Vera Cruz”, a Milton Nascimento composition that features on Wayne Shorter’s album “Moto Grosso Feio”, released in 1974 and the forerunner of the classic 1975 Shorter / Nascimento collaboration “Native Dancer”. This featured on Smith on soprano sax as he shared the solos with pianist Crawford. This was an excellent way to end a fascinating evening of music making and also represented a fitting tribute to the recently departed Shorter.
This was probably the most ‘straightahead’ jazz event that Music Spoken Here has presented thus far as the emphasis has previously been more on funk and fusion. I have to say that it worked very well in the rock club environment of the Marr’s Bar and the performance was very well received by an enthusiastic audience. Even on an unseasonably cold and drizzly night crowd numbers were well up on those at my previous visit, for Robert Castelli, in early March. The signs are there that Dave Fuller and Music Spoken Here are beginning to develop a genuine following and I hope that the momentum can continue to build during the course of an exciting summer programme, details of which can be found here;
My thanks to Dave Fuller for putting my wife and I on the guest list for this event and to Tristan Banks, John Crawford and Tom Smith for speaking with me afterwards. I’m pleased to say that Tristan appeared to be doing good business with regards to CD, vinyl and merch sales, always a sign of a good gig.
If I have a criticism it would be that with the focus very much on rhythm and with Banks directing the group from the drums it could all get a little bit relentless at times and a little more light and shade might have been welcome, but this is a relatively minor quibble in the context of a very good gig.
And I have to say that seeing the music performed live has enhanced my enjoyment of the CD as I listen back to it during the course of writing this review. Sometimes being able to summon up a visual image when listening to the music can increase one’s understanding and appreciation of the compositions. That’s certainly the case for me here.
“View For Above” makes for recommended listening and can be purchased from Tristan Banks’ Bandcamp page;
The album running order is;
1. View From Above
2. Ex Machina
3. Flex (For Dexter)
4. Possible Bossa
5. Dust Devil
10. Tempestablog comments powered by Disqus