Cleveland Watkiss, Steve Beresford and NYJO Nonet make for spellbinding Jazz In The Round

Tuesday, 04 February 2014

Jez Nelson, tonight’s curator and compere, boasts an uncanny knack for assembling diversely captivating bills, as entertaining as they are eclectic. After all, how often do you get the chance to witness the disparate talents of Cleveland Watkiss and Steve Beresford on the same card?

But first up this evening is the National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s Nonet, paying tribute to Miles Davis’ 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert, a show that marked something of a transitional stage in the trumpeter’s own trailblazing career. It’s tempting to gauge NYJO’s performance in terms of their youthfulness, before remembering that Tony Williams was just 19 when he clapped the traps that occasion in New York City. Instead, attention refocuses on the troupe’s infectious exuberance, radiating from fresh arrangements of ‘Walkin’’, ‘Four’ and ‘So What’, which mirror the accelerated, nervy bustle of the originals.

Next up, veteran improviser Steve Beresford contributes a quite sensational set. Secreting himself within the guts of the venue’s upright piano, he fluctuates between beautiful Feldman-like clusters and honky-tonk horseplay, before scattering an army of mechanised bugs upon the piano keys. Locating an atmospheric analogue to the pantomime horror of Bob Drake’s overlooked classic, The Skull Mailbox And Other Horror, this is a display equal parts slapstick and haunted house. A particular highlight comes when a passage of ragtime gibber gives way to the pluck of heavenly harps, Beresford uncovering a flight of angels among his instrument’s strings.

Watkiss is also on an improvisatory kick, employing the rich versatility of his voice to conjure a sequence of incrementally building layers through the use of a simple looping system. Drawing on his experiences with drum’n’bass and jungle, he provides his own beat-boxed syncopations, propelling soul-suckled hybrids of Gregorian harmony and a mutant strain of Polynesian folk song. It’s a highly ambitious sound – think Bobby McFerrin, or maybe even Micah Gaugh, singing for Phil Minton’s Feral Choir – and one that fits the spirit of the night perfectly.

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