It’s not often a pub in London survives two world wars only to end up becoming a thriving 21st Century Jazz Club, but The Spice of Life on Cambridge Circus has done just that and The Norwegian-Czech Jazz Quartet (NOCZ) exploded onto the stage tonight with their fiery, free jazz.
NOCZ is a Norwegian/Czech band exploring modern trends in experimental jazz in a traditional line-up: trumpet, saxophone, double bass and drums. The night kicked off with a tune called ‘Ouagadougou’ (capital of Burkina Faso), with Marian Friedl on the double bass playing a repeated swung rhythm, followed by Norwegian Dag Magnus Narvesen crashing in on the drums and then Norwegian Didrik Ingvaldsen giving us the melody on the trumpet. Czech reedman Radim Hanousek followed on the soprano saxophone, its own melody contrasting with the trumpet to create an altogether free, improvised Eastern vibe.
The horns bounced off each other and the dissonances from the Balkan and Klezmer overtones created a powerful sound with their earthy, Eastern flavours. Marian Friedl’s bass solo was perfectly coordinated with Dag on the drums, and the solo in this piece was shattering – Dag’s known for his collaborations with the star of the jazz avant-garde Alexander Von Schilippenbach and it seemed as though every muscle in his body was being used, with impossibly intricate rhythms and immaculate time-keeping skills. Trumpeter, composer and leader of the quartet, Didrik Ingvaldsen, who switches between experimental jazz scenes in Norway, Berlin and New York, invited the audience to guess the name of this piece in return for a free CD of theirs which instantly got the atmosphere off to an enjoyable start.
Especially striking was Didrik’s and Radim’s extended technique on the horns throughout the concert, notably Didrik’s use of circular breathing which had the audience watching open-mouthed: his solo consisted of circular breathing for over a minute, and the applause afterwards made plain the house’s admiration. Radim Hanousek’s solos – breakneck and roaring, sometimes rapid and high-pitched – were equally commendable.
The tune ‘White Monkey’ was particularly fiery with its rhythmic free jazz alternating between tight, orchestrated parts and fierce free improvisations. The horns began in unison with the expressive melody, the drums and bass dropping in and out: it was here that the free jazz and extended technique really came to the fore. Didrik Ingvaldsen, ‘a fabulous trumpeter who sounds like a cross between Don Cherry and Don Ellis’ (Steve Loewy, All Music Guide), used the trumpet in many weird and wonderful ways including making wispy breathing sounds, taking the mouthpiece off and playing that, and even hitting it against the body of the trumpet – while Dag used random objects to drop, hit, and glide across the drums. Marian and Dag were constantly communicating with each other and the consistent groove amidst the free improvisation was tight to say the least.
A ballad in memory of a Cuban trumpet player offered a different sound with Marian hitting the strings of the bass with a stick, creating an Eastern sound with multiple harmonics ringing out. Once again, Dag used various objects, dropping them gently onto the drums to create a light tinkling sound. The final tune of the night was a slower, more sensual piece of music aptly chosen to wind things down after a night of crazy, outrageous jazz. The walking bass and calming drums were consistent underneath meandering horns, coming down to the brass and bass in unison together, with atmospheric cymbal shimmers to end.
The distinctive dynamism the NOCZ quartet displayed tonight with their emphasis on rhythm, collective improvisation and unique free style made for an explosive night of unconventional jazz played by consummate, innovative performers.
The Norwegian-Czech Jazz Quartet at the Spice of Life (22/10/2015) was supported by the Czech Centre London. For more details of the Spice of Life’s programme of concerts and open mike nights, please click on the image below.