Just as the First House had been, so the Second House was absolutely sold out and packed for Michael Janisch with the Aruán Ortiz Quintet Featuring Greg Osby as part of this year's London Jazz Festival at the Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho.
Of course, this was a rather special gig. Bassist Michael Janisch has established himself on the UK scene with remarkable success since moving here from the US of course and has acquired quite a following in his own right. Greg Osby has been making big waves on the US East Coast scene for some twenty years. But in many ways the real star attraction had to be highly acclaimed NY-based Cuban pianist Aruán Ortiz, perhaps one of, if not the most exciting Cuban pianists to have emerged on the US scene in recent years. (He also, incidentally, arranged and played on jazz flautist Mark Weinstein's recently released charanga-jazz album El Cumbanchero.) Add to this renowned New York drummer Rudy Royston and outstanding Spanish trumpeter Raynald Colom, and you have a unique ensemble that had something to offer to everybody.
The first set kicked off with plenty of excitement, with first Janisch, then Ortiz setting off with blistering solos, then the others. Lack of excitement was certainly not something that this gig could have been accused of, and the atmosphere in the Pizza was tremendous, with each solo throughout attracting a voluminous and enthusiastic response from the crowd.
The material consisted largely of Janisch and Ortiz originals, with a couple of standards thrown in for good measure. Improvisation was fully to the fore throughout and dominated both sets, with some fine drum solos also.
This was modern jazz at some of its finest, no doubt, yet the music always remained remarkably accessible and quite simply, very enjoyable, generating an excitement that was almost palpable. If Ortiz may have been something of a largely unknown quantity to many in the audience, he certainly won't be anymore, making a huge impact with his inventive improvs, as well as his superb laying down of grooves with Janisch (with whom he was at Berklee) and fine ensemble playing. To those already familiar with this highly versatile stellar pianist, Ortiz delivered, as he invariably seems to.
Janisch was, well, simply Janisch at his very best, one of the most powerful, scorching groove masters around. Delivering some of the finest, most exhilarating modern jazz bass solos, he emanated an incredible energy that seemed to pervade and electrify the whole room.
Altoist Osby may or may not be your cup of tea, but there was no getting away from the fact that his performance was just mesmerising. Also living up to his reputation was drummer Royston with some fine trap work throughout and energetic solos.
But the real surprise 'discovery' for me was Colom, the Spanish trumpeter. His amazing sensitivity and fine ensemble playing were matched by his wonderful solos. A very impressive player with a very individual style that lingers in the memory.
Even without the banned these days tobacco smoke, the air seemed dense enough in the Pizza, as if you could cut it with a knife, such was the atmosphere generated by these two exiting sets that kicked off the London Jazz Festival at the Pizza in style last Friday night. Michael Janisch with the Aruán Ortiz Quintet Featuring Greg Osby delivered a mesmerising performance, as well as presenting a rare opportunity to see some world-class US musicians in action on this side of the pond.
This gig also demonstrated once again that there is a need for much greater 'cross touring' across the Atlantic, in both directions. Many UK jazzers are more than worthy of New York's finest jazz clubs. Alas, visa/work permit restrictions, especially cost, make this all too difficult. This is a sad state of affairs that negatively impacts the arts on both sides of the pond.
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