My time machine has landed in the swinging 60’s, bang-dot in the middle of a beatnik jazz-den, the 606 Club, near classy Chelsea Harbour.
I’m slightly annoyed this little gem of a venue has been sitting under my nose for decades without my knowing it, but happy to be at the Anglo Hungarian Jazz Festival tonight and finally to become acquainted with the place – a win-win situation, as I’m about to find out.
Gabor Bolla’s set explodes with Herbie Hancock’s ‘Driftin”. It’s a bolder rendition of the ambling original, the rhythmic dynamic of the ensemble lending a welcome freshness to the piece. The band certainly doesn’t mess around. They’re either naturally musically tight or have been rehearsing all week for this: the music’s a wall of commanding sound. Bolla’s sax is sovereign yet simpatico against Steve Fishwick’s soulful trumpet; the progression’s jaunty yet seamless. The bass (Adam King) punctuates the lines beautifully and Elemér Balázs’s drumming is masterful in managing both the pace and potency of the whole performance.
By contrast ‘Anthropology’ is less frenetic than Charlie Parker’s – and the looser style works well, revealing more of Bolla’s greased-up notes and the authoritative design of this 5-piece. The pianist, József Balázs has a humble silky touch and the whole result has a textured feel, the sound effortlessly switching styles from trad to avant-garde. Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’ – worthy of the sweeping motif of Gil Evans – and John Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ end an unforgettable set with a hearty drum solo by Elemer. Magical.
The next performance features saxophonist János Ávéd, who leads the second set with Jim Watson on piano, James Maddren on drums and once again, Adam King on bass. It’s more pared down and there are sublime moments with the sparser sound revealing prodigious musicianship. Ávéd’s sound’s been described as ‘muscular’, and indeed his sonorous tenor-sax makes the effect rather suave. There’s a different quality to the cohesiveness here : a looser feel which allows the musicians to hold court a while longer, in perhaps more distinctive ways. A lighter pace, too, is set by the opening ‘How High the Moon’: Ávéd’s velvety sax contrasts with Jim’s travelling, tap-dancing fingers, and the effect’s clean and melodious. ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ is divine – the sax weaving muscled notes against gentle keys and minimalist bass.
The highlight for me comes towards the end. ‘All the Things You Are’ rolls in with a Bach-like religious initiation, and boldly unfurls with an inventive drum solo. It’s hard to contain the potency of drums without brushes and I’m intrigued by how Maddren achieves this, especially in the next number where the drumming tic-tocks along to the Latin beat of Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma. However at other times this came close to drowning out the sensitive notes of the bass. Overall though the gig was a balanced performance, with bewitching instrumentation which kept us guessing until the end.
I’ve been to most Jazz venues in London both as a punter and performer – this was one of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time. The acoustics are wonderful, and the venue reminiscent of the comfy, lived in old Vortex. A special mention too must go to the sound person – surely key to the night’s success. I’m a happy North Londoner and have never envied the South much. Tonight I do.
The Anglo-Hungarian Jazz Festival 2015 was brought to you by the 606 Jazz Club and the Budapest Jazz Club in association with the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London.