JazzJanuary performance #6
Jeff Lorber Fusion
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, 22nd January
JazzJanuary testers: Dan, Kate, Matt, Reena
JazzJanuary adviser: N/A
Ronnie Scott’s isn’t keen on photography. It’s an odd thing, because the walls are covered with hundreds of David Sinclair’s beautiful prints. Then again, clattering shutters and flash don’t do much for a live music performance. And it’s no fun watching a band on the back of someone else’s iPhone. This is why JazzJanuary photos come from a tiny, matte black, mirrorless camera that’s completely silent and emits no light – not even from an LCD screen. Taking photos with it is no more intrusive than taking a sip from a glass.
Tonight, though, things have reached spy thriller-level. Warnings against photography are given by the folks who show us to our seats, and by the waiters, and then the guy who introduces the band. Could Jeff Lorber be so camera-shy that he’ll flee at the sight of one, and take the first flight back to Philadelphia? Imagine being responsible for such a thing. The lens cap stays on.
If you want to know what the man looks like, then: compact and friendly. His ears stick out slightly further than average. In a musician, this must be a good sign. Sure enough, Jeff Lorber is a careful listener. Just as Michael De Souza told us in Cambridge last week, jazz musicians play for the music, not for themselves. This master pianist is gently noodling away, facing across the stage and listening intently. In the centre, under the spotlight, is the person he’s watching. Andy Snitzer, saxophonist, is what jazz musicians call a “beast”. Overcoming a tickly cough just into the set, he plays hard for 80 minutes, switching between alto and tenor saxophones, throwing in one fearsome solo after another, leaning and bending around like a willow tree in a gale. He’s burning some energy – and there will be a late-night performance after this one, too.
‘Fusion’ is a new thing for all of us. It’s funky jazz, sort of. In pleasing way, it’s like sitting inside a 1980’s American television crime drama. The internet hasn’t helped us with the definition – in fusion, apparently, it’s up to musicians to decide what it is they’re actually fusing. We’re short of help from the jazz-advisers. Tonight, they’re nowhere to be found. “Jeff Lorber? That’s…fusion” one had said, wide-eyed and wary, as though animals would be sacrificed on stage.
Jazz-testers Reena, Dan and Kate are too stylish and metropolitan to be scared – though Reena is concerned about the saxophonist. “Really, he looks on the edge of dying. He should pull one notch back.” Everybody’s enthusiastic about the venue, especially Kate. “I love the atmosphere in this place. You can imagine it in earlier times. It has that Soho naughtiness going on.” And the band? “Generally, I find jazz a bit hectic, except for quiet pianos which I can just switch off and listen to. I’m also a bit worried about the saxophonist, but I love the rhythm and energy of this band.”
For years, jazz-tester Dan has dedicated himself to computers, and the music that comes out of them. Yet here he is, mouthing expletives at the crispness and verve of the rhythm. It makes sense – Dan loves drum and bass music, and directly in front of him are drums and a bass. His verdict is delivered a day after the show. “I just can’t get over the gently bobbing head of the bassist, eyes closed in obvious delight coupled with the gleeful excitement of Jeff Lorber as he enthusiastically prods both piano and organ simultaneously. The music drifts out effortlessly with perfect timing and ever-increasing levels of funk. In the wrong hands or in the wrong place this could be musak for morons but in ‘Ronnie’s’ with a drop of wine, it’s elevated to magic.”
(1) Lionel Cordew. Meticulous and savage, all at the same time. A four-piece band leaves enough space to really appreciate what a drummer is doing. And just listen to how much this man cares about his cymbals.
(2) 80 minutes of sustained, driving saxophone from Andy Snitzer. An impressive demonstration which split the jazz-testers (two loved it, two were concerned that he might not survive the night).
(3) Fusion. However it’s defined, this is a special sound – upbeat and fun. A niche within a niche.
(4) Ronnie Scott’s. Once again, a new group of jazz-testers loves this place.
The curious aversion to photography.
Royal Academy of Music Big Band, 29 January.
Story and (just one, on the pavement) photo: Matt Pannell