Flows with fire at Watermill Jazz

Having spent much of his pro playing career as sideman to the likes of John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Alan Skidmore and Sarah Vaughan, Chris Laurence‘s debut disc as a leader – 2007’s New View– revealed more edges to this typically rounded, graceful double bassist.

It may well have been down to the company he kept on that album, a band made up of veteran vibes player Frank Ricotti, and former Loose Tubes members Martin France and John Parricelli on drums and guitar, all re-assembled tonight to dust off and dish out some of what made the album such an emotive, and at times, feverous listen.

Best befitting Laurence’s lively work as long-time sessioner, the band eased in with the first of many tunes penned by past collaborators – Andy Sheppard’s ‘Dancing Man and Woman’, with Laurence holding down a tight, spidery bass figure, allowing Ricotti and Parricelli to pull long lines from its sweet melody.

No doubt welcomed by a mostly elder audience, a loyalty to lyricism weaved through much of the set, notably over Surman’s ‘Cloud Song’, Wheeler’s ‘Long Waiting’ or a hip attempt at Stan Sulzmann’s ‘Jack Stix’, which, despite leaving a vibrant line from Ricotti bruised by a bristly bossa feel from France, unleashed some breath-taking, quick-draw dialogue between the two.

Finding no flaws in any of the balladry throughout, it was during the more out-there and up-tempo tunes that this band really got their hands dirty. The first of which, bookended by a tireless, but textured drum solo, was Parricelli’s ‘Skrim’, coaxing some high-register heroics from Laurence, it more crucially served as a launch pad for the guitarist to fire some semi-distorted, Scofield-style blues bends straight to the back of the hall.

Mostly absorbed in the chords and glare of Ricotti’s seductive swing, Laurence appeared to gather more steam in the second set, starting with a superb solo over Wheeler’s The Jigsaw. Sustaining this momentum to tackle the twitchy time-signatures skidding through Surman’s ‘Brewster’s Rooster’, he closed the show gracefully, bowing his instrument over a military-tight snare tattoo that announced yet another one of Wheeler’s ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ – a suitably-titled swinger, best befitting the many sides of a long-time sessioner, at last with his own epic band.


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