The transatlantic billing of this New York-based saxophonist’s quartet came from a special guest appearance on this last night of his short UK tour by British guitarist Phil Robson. Although this was their first pairing, most of the compositions were originals from the two leaders’ last album releases, making it a tale of two CDs. Maybe it was the band’s ensuing unfamiliarity that led to a somewhat patchy gig.
However, what threatened to be a rather awkward affair was lifted out of the ordinary by a standout rhythm section, New York resident Paul Wiltgen on drums and the Minnesota-born but London-based Michael Janisch. Over two fitful sets they consistently lifted the gig, following tricky structures without losing a beat, laying down an irresistible pulse.
Both leaders tend to write densely chorded, complex structures that soloists need to be familiar with if they are to build up a real head of steam or set a mood. Two first-set compositions, including the opener, had such typically idiosyncratic chord sequences that while each composer could sail over his own creation, his partner had to focus on getting the structure right.
That said, a soulful “Reptilian” by Robson and a nightmarish waltz, Cornelius’ “Lucid Dreams” worked well, but it was Robson’s technically demanding “Screenwash”, with its loping indeterminate melody and sudden changes of direction and tempo, that raised the stakes for a second set.
This turned out to be much more successful, with Cornelius and Robson casting caution to the winds on structures less laden with chords. Both are fluent soloists with full tones and bags of technique and sailed over the soulful grooves of Robson’s “The Plough”, “Bug Eyes” and Cornelius’ “Brother Gabriel”, a relaxed ballad despite its complex time signature. They even dashed off a Charlie Parker blues, “Billie’s Bounce”, and finished on the jam-session warhorse “Cherokee” with UK tenor saxophonist Julian Siegel sitting in. ★★★☆☆
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