Adam Waldmann, the saxophonist leader of the Kairos 4tet, dedicated the opening number of this gig to the Occupy movement and the second to “another group of individuals in exploitative circumstances – my band”. Elsewhere, inspiration for Waldmann’s lyrical, folk-inflected jazz lay more in personal relationships than the economic relations that surrounded them. There were dedications to girlfriend and niece (“Home to You” and “Ell’s Bells”), each band member got a mention, while “W&G”, a lovely a cappella duet with vocalist Emilia Mårtensson, was written for a best friend’s wedding.
Waldmann follows a lineage of UK saxophonists with wispy tones and flute-like upper registers who partner the phrasing and rhythms of folk music with the urgent pulse of jazz. This gig, showcasing the new CD Everything We Hold, added vocals to his Mobo-winning quartet, and made the influence of laments and balladry on his light-touch melodies clear. Sharp lyrics avoided sentimentality and the helter-skelter pulse of his contemporary rhythm section added bite so that the music never lapsed into whimsy.
As on the CD, cut-and-thrust instrumentals were intercut with tight vocal showcases so that neither seemed out of place. Both came with Ivo Neame’s piano-pedal introductions and a skittery pulse from Jon Scott’s drums and both followed an engaging narrative arc. Instrumentals shifted mood and tempo, and lyrics such as “Home to You” presented close ties as a refuge from a harsh outside world. In both sets, strong performances steered the music away from repetition.
The first set was bookended by the “99 Suite” and included “J-Hø From the Block”, written for bassist Jasper Høiby. Here, polyrhythmic drums fuelled modal piano, the bassist’s muscular counterpoint added bite and Waldmann’s lines broke into arpeggiated flurries. The evening’s encore was a tempo-changing workout based on imaginative harmonic leaps.
Vocals came mid-set, were slower in tempo, and an equal match. Now, the band stepped back, harmonised and added parallel lines. Marc O’Reilly’s gravelly rasp was a powerful, perfectly tuned balance of compassion and fire, while Mårtensson’s purer tones had a husky edge – her wedding-song duet with Waldmann’s soprano was a poised highlight. The showstopper came near the end, when Neame switched to accordion and O’Reilly added bittersweet harmonies to Mårtensson’s lead on the achingly slow “Narrowboat Man”.