Bassist and bandleader Chris Laurence is something of a genre-spanning polymath. He has been principal bassist with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, is a regular collaborator with Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann and John Surman in the jazz world, and has recorded with Elton John and Sting. He was joined for this Vortex gig by Frank Ricotti (vibraphone), Martin France (drums) and John Paricelli (guitar), who between them have played with Robbie Williams, M People and Joni Mitchell.
The set list provided a nod to many of Laurence’s former band mates and it wasn’t long before they were ensconced in a Sulzmann track entitled ‘Jack Stix’. This started with a plangent bass motif that was soon joined by some extended chords on the vibes. The ethereal swirling of the latter and the relatively free bass gave things a rather amorphous air, as if to provide an introduction to the palette they were about to paint with. The drums then joined in, fairly free at first, and gradually boiled things down to a focused groove as Paricelli’s chorus-saturated tone complemented the texture, giving rise to a more unified form to which an intricate guitar solo was appended.
This passage from relative freedom to form was to become a key theme for the rest of the gig. This antecedent freedom was never harsh or abrasive however, I imagine partly due to the naturally soporific qualities of the vibes as much as the way they were being employed. Kenny Wheeler’s The Long Waiting saw a reverb-laden Paricelli sketch a deliberately ill-defined outline of the melodic centre, to which the swaying vibes were added, before things were tightened up by the firm pulse of the rhythm section. The dynamics of this transition from freedom to form were interesting. A rich, possibly boomy bass provided the bottom end, whilst the vibes’ spacey modulation was offset against the more incisive angularity of the guitar. It was the drums that fully underpinned the unity of the group’s emerging form however, and much like he has done on recordings such as Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea, Martin France laid down grooves of drum and bass intensity whilst always being in and never on the music.
Things continued in this vein with Wheeler and Surman pieces before they broke into Paricelli’s ‘Scrim’. This was a personal highlight which saw France unleash flurries of notes in 5/4, providing Paricelli with the ballast to let rip a solo of Scofield-esque bite.
Musicians like these are vital to the music ecosystem. They support the commercial world, then get down to the real business unsung in small gigs. If anyone fancies checking these guys out (and/or escaping the football), three of this band are joined by Stan Sulzmann (sax) and John Taylor (piano) on 13 July at the Vortex.
Review of Chris Laurence Quartet at the Vortex on 21 June.