sun 14/04/2024

Michael Janisch Band, Ronnie Scott's review - jazz's ace of bass makes a welcome return | reviews, news & interviews

Michael Janisch Band, Ronnie Scott's review - jazz's ace of bass makes a welcome return

Michael Janisch Band, Ronnie Scott's review - jazz's ace of bass makes a welcome return

The American bassist was joined onstage by some of the finest talents in British jazz

Michael Janisch and some of the finest talents in British jazzPhoto credit: Monika Jakubowski

This was, said bassist Michael Janisch, his first gig since January last year, and his crack group’s Monday evening set, kicking off at the un-jazzy hour of 6.30pm, was an energising, dynamic group performance from A-list British musicians who are band leaders in their own right.

They are Empirical’s alto-saxophonist Nathaniel Facey; his childhood friend – and one of Britain’s finest drummers (and fellow Empirical member) – Shaney Forbes; fellow Whirlwind Recordings artist, tenor saxophonist George Crowley; and on the keyboards and synths, Rick Simpson, whose own quartet was touring its account of Radiohead’s Kid A before the pandemic closed gigs doors across the planet.

Before an enthusiastic early-evening audience at Ronnie’s, Janisch focused on his 2019 album, Worlds Collide, albeit kicking off with a new, unrecorded piece he called “Restart”, before seguing into the angular “Freakout”, then pausing to introduce the band before launching them full tilt into “Frocklebot”, the alto-tenor front line leading with a series of rhythmic hard stops before opening up wide to a Mingus-like ambience of musical cries and whispers, irrigated by ring-modulated droplets of electric keys before Crowley leans into a solo, Janisch walking the double bass, and Forbes casting shade with percussive touches before the two sax players embark on a fluttering alto-tenor duet.

It’s the ever-changing dynamics in the tunes and in the band that draws you to the centre of this music. For the segue from “Frocklebot” to “Another London”, Janisch conducts several rhythmic conversations at once on double bass runs of overlapping musical figures, before Simpson launches into a bright, dayglo Eighties synth riff, hitting its rhythmic stride a la Prince to Forbes’ formidable backbeat.

When it’s done, Janisch cheerfully lets us know that “Another London” is his biggest hit, having been streamed 500,000 times. “I spent that money on a coffee”, he adds to much laughter, before the band launches into the fast-paced energetic hard bop of another new cut, “The Song That Never Was”, with Forbes’ drumming his hands into a blur, drawing you into the music as if it was a net.

The gargantuan “Pop” opens with a liminal and soulful solo introduction from Facey, Janisch strumming then bowing his double bass as splashes of ring-modulated synth build, the full band stretching open into Miles-like passages, that sound as if Kind of Blue laid an egg in Bitch’s Brew and let it hatch in the controlled conditions of Janisch and the group, where the music finds its sweet spot. “An Ode to A Norwegian Strobe” is the evening’s closer, Janisch back on electric bass, with Simpson unleashing more synth-pop lines against Forbes’ driving beat. It’s a nice big room of a tune, with plenty of angles and space to roam.


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