At this second gig of an extensive UK tour, the young US percussionist Richie Barshay – he joined Herbie Hancock’s group in 2003 at the age of 20 – presented an eclectic mix of world rhythms, odd melodies and jazz improvisation that was held together by somewhat labyrinthine musical structures. At times, the twin saxophone-led, vibraphone-supported quintet recalled the complexities of 1950s cool jazz, although with greater rhythmic thrust. Occasionally things got bogged down in detail, but this only made the moments when the band soared even more effervescent.
Barshay’s band revealed their world-music slant from the outset, with the saxophonist Petr Cancura plunking the Irish reel “Ode to a Butterfly” on electric mandolin, to hand-drum accompaniment. Barshay has an ethnographer’s fascination with folk rhythms, enthusiastically explaining complexities between numbers and conducting occasional bouts of audience handclapping. Most instructions were followed with aplomb, but the explanation of one Indian rhythm was so intricate it nonplussed not only the audience but also the saxophonist demonstrating it.
Balancing this world-music enthusiasm was a fine-tuned sense of compositional form – the one standard, Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin”, was bent into a complex 64-note south Indian structure – and some great free-flowing jazz. Compositions tended to start with folk rhythms – Ethiopia, Peru and the Middle East were visited along with India – unaccompanied duets or bendy melodies. At times they sounded like atonal fugues, at others off-kilter calypsos or temple drones. But these beginnings quickly morphed through changes of tempo and mood, held together by Barshay’s brilliantly understated virtuosity and precision – nonchalantly one-handed tabla solos, viciously truncated press-rolls, sonorous, bell-like cymbals.
Jazz was never too far away, though, with the UK vibraphonist Jim Hart soaring to the manner born, his solos a consistent highlight. In the ensemble, his rich, blue-edged metallic timbre complemented the gruff, airy tones of the saxophones, adding textural depth as well as rhythmic embellishment. The saxophonist Daniel Blake also impressed, bending rhythmically ragged, abstract spirals of notes to fit Barshay’s well-tempered rhythms. The tension between form and freedom was dramatically underlined.
Touring the UK until October 12
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