Graham Fitkin/Tim Garland Nonet, Purcell Room, London

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Combinations of jazz and classical music too often collapse into syrupy romanticism or squeaky anarchy. This nonet concert fused top-drawer UK symphony musicians with US jazz heavyweights and got it just right. Subtitled Momentum, and billed as a “contemporary concerto grosso”, the evening was given coherence by an overarching theme – the individual in a global world – clear structure and superb musicianship.

The first half presented classical composer/pianist Fitkin’s “Mistaken Identity”; the second featured jazz saxophonist Garland’s “Life in Syncopation”, and as one would expect there was a progression from the completely written to the completely improvised – there was even a burst of everything-in-the-pot free-jazz towards the end of Garland’s spot. Both composers were strong on texture, but in an interesting reversal of expected roles, Fitkin’s compositions were more concerned with texture and developing rhythmic motifs while jazz saxophonist Garland’s work carried more melodic thrust.

Fitkin, leading from piano, opened with a twirly rhythmic motif that was gradually broken into overlapping fragments and tossed from marimba to muted trumpet, vibraphone to soprano sax. This established the mood of the first half – strong on texture and rhythmically hypnotic. Ethereal bowed vibraphone, watery bass clarinet and flute made a delicious cocktail, and throughout John Patitucci played double bass with enough energy to power a wind turbine.

Garland’s music also had strong textures, tossed themes around with abandon and used Patitucci to the max – bass guitar riffs from the 1970s were a potent add-on – but there was technical bravado, a higher energy quotient and a few good tunes. Percussionist Neil Percy, switching from marimba to drums helped – there was a quite a bit of scuttling about – as did soloists Joe Locke on vibraphone and pianist Geoffrey Keyser, vying to outdo each other, to the obvious pleasure of the rest of the ensemble. But overall the evening was best characterised by the ensemble itself, exemplified by Phil Todd’s brief, unassuming bluesy bass-saxophone solo, and the way it worked as a single entity, Fitkin’s opening motif seemingly restated in Garland’s more energetic finale.
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