French violinist Didier Lockwood is an exuberant technician with an arresting stage presence and a bundle of electronic effects. He came to prominence aged 17 when he joined the progressive rock band Magma – this gig, he told us, celebrated the 40th anniversary of his professional career – but he went on to develop an international profile in jazz with credits including Miles Davis and the Marsalis brothers.
His fully-amplified style retains a jazz-rock presence – this evening’s solos delivered a fair share of slashed harmonised slurs and climactic glides up and down the violin fingerboard. As he hits his stride he arches his back and seems to vibrate in tune with his bow. But these extremities emerge from a solid jazz core of modal improvisation delivered with passion, speed and the supple syncopations of formative influence Stéphane Grappelli.
This performance featured the equally fluent and highly regarded Italian pianist Antonio Faraò supported by a fresh-to-the-table UK rhythm team. Perhaps born of necessity, the structures presented were fairly straightforward – atmospheric in-style originals from Lockwood and Faraò were balanced by four standards from the modernist repertoire. And there were lengthy introductions featuring hefty helpings of solo violin, duets between Lockwood and each member of the band and a liberal use of samplers and effects – everything from layered repeats, delays and echoes to seagulls and a foghorn over the swoosh of waves.
Faraò, though more orthodox than the leader, was no makeweight, and his long lines flowing over a bustling left hand, coupled with his sensitively voiced accompaniment, always engaged. Bassist Dave Whitford was a model of firm-fingered solidity and delivered a brace of angular solos that had the audience whooping their support. And Gene Calderazzo on drums propelled the band, marked each contour and climax, and delivered a highlight duet with the leader.
Lockwood, though, was the focus, and his panache and flamboyance were hard to resist. His amplified sound is a bit scratchy when quiet – “In a Sentimental Mood” was introduced at a squeak – but is rounded and swinging with the volume turned up, and his extraordinary fluency and control soared over funk, swing and flamenco pastiche alike.