The spectrum of jazz music is rich and the London Jazz Festival 2015 showcased this richness. Appearing under the auspices of Polish jazz – but reflecting the diversity of London – was the international ensemble Krzysztof Urbanski and Urban Jazz Society at the Green Note, Camden on Friday 20th November. The Urban Jazz Society, led by the saxophonist Krzysztof Urbanski, are pianist Martin Longhawn, Sam Gardner on drums, Sam Vicary on double bass and guitarist Stuart McCallum. The ensemble comes from a lineage of jazz that gave usMiles Davies, Courtney Pine and Ronny Jordan – to mention a few – while their tunes pay homage to the 1990s and veterans like Quincey Jones and Herbie Hancock: artists who infused jazz with soul.
Urban Jazz Society eased us into the evening with the composition Neo-Resonance from its latest studio effort History of Tomorrow. This was a mellow tune foreshadowing a set that was to be a slow boil. The tune didn’t stay mellow for long: as the band followed the lead of the saxophone and upped the tempo, bodies began to relax, feet began to tap and heads nodded in time to the music. Making capital out of the attention they’d garnered from the crowd, they introduced the second composition – Bouncing Colour – with Gardner’s extended drum solo, which did indeed get the people bouncing, in their seats. If Neo-Resonance displayed the ensemble’s skills with tempo this second composition established their rhythm credentials. Engaging though never too serious, this is what jazz might have sounded like before it got intellectual.
Along with History of Tomorrow – the third composition of the set and the title track of their album – Bouncing Colour pointed to the incorporation of “Hip-hop, Urban and R&B” that the band’s accompanying publicity spoke of. Playing around with these offshoots of the soul genre, Krzysztof Urbanski and Urban Jazz Society strained at the boundaries of acid jazz while trying – perhaps deliberately – to steer clear of it. Their tracks wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1990s acid jazz scene, nor would a rapper have jarred with their act. But it was Longhawn’s piano solo interjections that further emphasised this 1990s feel invoking Nuyorican soul: in its time just shy of being labelled a genre.
Krzysztof Urbanski and Urban Jazz Society is purely an auditory experience and Urbanski seems at one with his saxophone, communicating solely through the horn with his audience and band members. As long as the music flowed, everything and the band were at peace with the world – just as well given the strange surreal set-up of the Green Note stage, members of the audience having to walk across it to enter or exit. This continuous invasion of the platform during their set seemed to faze bandleader Urbanski or his band of cool cats not a whit.
The evening’s set was crowned with a peek into what an Urban Jazz Society private jam session might sound like. With an extended musical spar between the sax and drums we were introduced to the composition titled Groove – appropriately, given the ensemble’s homage to jaunty soulful jazz.
Krzysztof Urbanski and Urban Jazz Society appeared as part of the London Jazz Festival 2015 (13th – 22nd November), supported by the Polish Cultural Institute, London.