O'HIGGINS AND LUFT PLAY COLTRANE & MONK AT UNIVERSITY CENTRE BAR
“Yes our latest project does sound a bit like two firms of solicitors’ quipped Rob Luft last night under the groovy coloured lights of the low-slung new Cambridge Jazz venue.
Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft star in their charismatic quartet. On a grueling 37 gig tour they vow to cover the 73 compositions of Thelonius Monk – ‘ to keep it all interesting and fresh’ . I reckon they have 27 ahead of them but the sheer gutsy energy of this endeavor takes some courage.
True Rob Luft is only 25 years old (and the co-leader not so very much older )But he has already won the Monteux Jazz Guitar Competition and the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize.
Partner in groove, Dave O’Higgins breathes out that warm mellow saxophone sound everyone – jazzer or not - loves. His brilliant facility with dreamy standards (like Brazi) has spread his reputation far beyond his London base. Last night backed by Scott Flanigan from Belfast on Hammond organ ( skillful subtle playing) and stand-in drummer Josh Morrison (with masses of smiles and lots of oomph )it was a nearly all-Ireland line up of superb skills.
”Three Irish stand-by passports between us” announced Rob. “Just in case.”
If anyone was ever apprehensive about O’Higgins and Loft’s capacity to live up to their models, they need not have worried. O’Higgins (this group does have some memorable names, wasn’t O’Higgins the Liberator of Chile, an errant Irishman who ran the revolution there?) and Luft ( German for air – pretty relevant in any jazz band ) play with an energy to match the originals note for note.
John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk are their long term influences and their new project is more than an homage to the twin inspiration of heyday jazz, Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft inhabit the spirit of their jazz ancestors and produce some joyous sounds in tribute. Heroes of a twentieth century music era, Trane and Monk live on in this contemporary interpretation.
In some ways as vibrant as the originals.
Jazz fiend friends of mine just called their newborn son Thelonius. Yep. They are fans. Monk is a major mover in jazz history. Revered hardly covers his reputation among his fervent followers. With a lifestyle as kooky as any biopic you could imagine, Monk is jazz giant with staying power. The tunes, the rhythms the arrangements all attest to his great standing. Yesterday was his birthday so last night we had more anniversary tributes than usual. He would have been 102.
John Coltrane is the cooler, calmer more troubled co-star of 40s and fifties jazz scenes. Canonized in the musical world, his originality cedes to no one –his pieces anthems of invention and musical experimentation.
The quartet packed the low slung colourful space at the University Centre with the many followers for whom these Monk and Coltrane are more than just part of the past, they are in their very being as music lovers.
In a repertoire that delighted the audience it was sometimes so complex the original tune was hard to hear – Was ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ in there during Rob and Dave’s virtuosic rendition of Thelonius’ favourite?. I imagine it must have been but so overlaid by spontaneous riffs, it vanished for me.
No complaints though, the result was exciting.
High spot of the evening was surely a varied interpretation of the ever popular “Round Midnight’ Thelonius Monk’s eternal gift to every late night jazz bar in the world, a melancholy, almost mournful but moving song that’s been sung to, re-set, sequestered and sometimes wrecked. Last night it was in an arrangement by Dave O’Higgins that took us through its previous iterations into one bluesy sigh of jazz solitude.
All dreamy. One thought about the Hammond organ though. It is groovy and played by Mr. Flanigan a fabulous instrument, but is it always right in a subtle sound combination to have an electronic instrument with such a distinctive and insistent sound. It did clash sometimes with the sound of the amazing Luft guitar which was a shame. My personal view only, I prefer a piano.
Award winning Cambridge Wine have just scooped the pool of national awards for their wine shops and their new Wine Bar combines fabulous drinks with super comfortable seats in which to hear amazing jazz hot from the capital – a combination that makes an evening there totally dreamy.
Don’t forget to look out for the Jazz Festival that glorious antidote to November.