Fly | Rating: **** | Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
For a trio who as individuals spend much of their time in a distinguished roster of other line-ups led by the likes of Brad Mehldau, Dave Holland or Enrico Rava, the New York-based Fly seem able to generate an uncannily reflexive interplay whenever they reconvene, as they did for this opening night concert at the Glasgow Jazz Festival.
Granted, saxophonist Mark Turner, drummer Jeff Ballard and double-bassist Larry Grenadier have been playing as a collective for a dozen years or more, but from their opener, with Turner spelling out a melody over Grenadier’s inexorably advancing bass and Ballard’s ever-shifting drum patterns, they sounded utterly at home together amid often complex arrangements, with bass or drums as likely to take the lead as tenor sax, which when not ranging lithely, would sometimes sounds a spooky, scarcely perceptible Greek chorus to the busily venturing bass and drums.
Grenadier’s bass work combined springy precision with deep, woody resonance, Ballard’s industrious drumming painting in texture as well as showing muscle in numbers which frequently negotiated sudden changes of mood and tempo. Turner’s composition Super Sister, for instance, opened with him blowing soulfully over ominously tolling bass, then gathered pace and force before taking in an elegant bass excursion and forceful drum break. And Ballard’s Perla Moreda saw the sax churning viscerally one moment, switching to ghostly whispering the next, while bass and drums plunged on, then a perky, nursery-rhyme-like outburst before things subsided and gently died away.
As a tightly condensed showcase of their collective muscle, their fiercely hustling encore took some beating, with its sharp sax-bass unison riffing before a concluding slam.
In support, the excellent Scottish New Focus quartet had just half an hour in which to preview their brand new second album, On Song, albeit without the string quartet and harp which augment them on the recording. They made the most of it, however, the group’s core of saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and keyboard player Euan Stevenson, with bassist Andy Sharkey and drummer Alyn Cosker, opening with the energetic and Balkan-accented Green Park, while the drifting sax lines and dreamy electric piano of Destination Unknown took on a distinct edge in its journey.
The bustle of Corea Change saw Wiszniewski switch to soprano sax, escorted by cascading keyboards before things spun to an abrupt close – powerfully inventive and melodic music, even with no strings attached.