Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring was part of the jazz renaissance of the 1980s, when a wave of young, largely African-American jazz musicians looked to the 1960s for inspiration. Like many of his generation, Herring always seemed slightly in awe of his forebears – he modelled his early style on the work of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and now plays lead saxophone with the Cannonball Legacy band led by drummer Louis Hayes – but he never lost his individuality. And in this band he has adapted this soulful, multi-noted style to the rhythms of modern funk, retaining all the fire and finesse of the original.
This short season at Ronnie’s was the culmination of a 14-night European tour without a break, and Herring and his band – The Earth Jazz Agents – had the relaxed interplay and casual excitement that comes from intense performance.
Opening with swirling keyboards and swishing cymbals, their set was soon dominated by hard-driving funky grooves and a succession of solos, with all band members getting an equal turn in the spotlight. Although Herring’s name is on the posters, it is really a classic, musically co-operative modern jazz combo that uses well- worked themes to structure a succession of excitingly virtuosic improvisations – the souped-up, figured bass lines and thumb-slapping rhythms of Ritchie Goods were outstanding.
The cannily rearranged standards included an edgy “Speak Low”, and Mulgrew Miller’s haunting “Soleo”, which spotlighted Anthony Wousley’s climactic block chords. The band even managed to inject new life into The Beatles’ warhorse “Norwegian Wood”, transforming a somewhat whimsical theme by adding a steadily intensifying rhythmic vamp from drummer Joris Dudli. And the originals, including a fearsomely fast merengue, were equally meaningful.
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