Multi-instrumentalist and composer Orphy Robinson remains best known for his rhythmically astute shimmer-and-clang vibraphone – his most recent appearance at Ronnie Scott’s was last year with violinist Nigel Kennedy – and Matt Halsall’s gentle take on John Coltrane’s spiritual legacy usually takes in a spot of DJing. But at this gig, a power cut took out half of Soho, including the Ronnie Scott’s stage – with uncanny foresight, the local cinema was showing (for an hour anyway) The Interrupters.
Jazz proved to be less dependent on electricity, and the ethereal strum of un-amplified harp signalled the start of two sets of fully acoustic jazz. Quietly and intensely, both bands filled the candlelit club with the natural sounds of wood, brass and skin, Halsall’s tranquil riffs a contrast with the sharp angles, unexpected deviations and collective energy of Robinson’s marimba-led set.
Halsall strips Coltrane’s kinetic spiritual energy to its fundamentals and rekindles the meditative tranquillity of the saxophonist’s late wife, Alice – her “Blue Nile” stood out among the covers. The iconic bass riff to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” was repeated without decoration, as piano and harp combined in a wash and beats simmered unobtrusively. Saxophonist Nat Birchall was the main soloist, his patterns, riffs and split harmonics capturing the basic Coltrane style, while Halsall delivered minimal variations on the opening themes.
CodeFive, Robinson’s band, cram in the detail, seguing from blues-soaked riffs to a sharp-moving bridge, splitting into fragments and then reconvening. There are solo spots and fully improvised ensembles, the cadences of classical fugue and the bish-bash of avant-jazz piano. Robinson’s long, resonant phrases sprawling across the beat, surging from the low register and diminishing in a trill were a highlight throughout.
The original repertoire was drawn from Robinson’s extensive catalogue, and included the orchestral “Sweet One For Two”, the reggae-tinted “Mellow Dilemna” and the blues-inflected “Big Foot”, written for his ex-Art Blakey saxophonist Jean Toussaint. The full house was enraptured until two final vocals. Chantelle Nandi has a lovely voice and accurately handled the somewhat obtuse melodies, but without a microphone the volume was simply too low.