It takes a brave bandleader to offer Sarah Tandy the first solo of the set. And when the pianist was presented with that opportunity while depping for Joe Armon-Jones in Binker Golding’s quartet at Jazz in the Round at the Cockpit Theatre on Monday night, she made the most of it. As she can do, she simply took flight, pulling together the strands of the opening theme, focusing the efforts of the whole band and raising the intensity to a level sustained for the next 40 minutes.
It took four of them to bring that off, of course. Not just Tandy or Golding, whose playing seems to have reached a new level of authority in the past year, but the band’s bassist, Dan Casimir, who deploys a huge tone and a massive drive, and its drummer, Sam Jones, who is loose and sharp at the sane time and has a lovely way of infusing eights with a triplet-based feel (and who managed to make an adroit recovery when his bass-drum pedal flew off just as Golding’s tenor solo was building in the climactic “Fluorescent Black”).
They played tunes from Golding’s new album, Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers, whose delightful title owed something, he said, to the poet Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — That perches in the soul — And sings the tune without the words — And never stops — at all — ” It was, he added, the result of his desire to make something more melodic than the music he created in his duo with the drummer Moses Boyd and its various extensions.
How well he has succeeded. The album is like a modern version of a tenor-and-rhythm session by someone such as George Coleman or James Clay at the zenith of the hard-bop era: original themes that are strong and complex, full of immediately attractive twists and turns, blowing that is fierce but constantly aware of the need to build a narrative. Occasionally, as in “Exquisite She-Green”, there is a Monkish angularity that seeps into the solos. A ballad like “You, That Place, That Time” is not afraid to explore a glowing but always alert lyricism. Others, like “Fluorescent Black” and the Latin-inflected “I Forgot Santa Monica”, have a built-in swing that allows the musicians to take off and show us the extent of their old-school chops while making it clear that they have new things to say.
Tandy on the live gig provided a rewarding contrast with Armon-Jones’s work on the album: the former constantly launching her combination of soulfulness and rhapsody, fingers flying as she goes deeper and deeper, the latter a virtuoso of funky feeling, with a surprise in every bar and making each one count towards the whole.
The gig had the Cockpit audience roaring its approval. The album is a beautiful (and very beautifully recorded) document capturing a young London musician’s discovery that there’s more than one way for his generation to wreck the house. Most highly recommended.
* Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers is out now on the Gearbox label.