Gary Crosby’s Groundation lay new musical foundations at The Verdict

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In the practice of Rastafari, a Grounation is a musical and motivational meeting-up of the community – part prayer meeting, part drumming circle, part mentoring session, it’s the means by which the core values of the group are re-examined and reinvigorated, and its traditions upheld and passed down. Gary Crosby’s Groundation is happening in Brighton tonight, kicking off the Verdict’s New Generation Jazz project; the OBE awarded bassist, educator and long-time anchor man for the Afro-Caribbean jazz tradition has brought together rising stars Shirley Tetteh, Moses Boyd (freshly garlanded with a MOBO Award for his Dem Ones project with saxist Binker Golding) and the mercurial altoist Nathaniel Facey for an evening of exploration, affirmation and conversation.

What follows is an explosive, wide-ranging four-way exposition on the state of jazz today, (and the shape of jazz to come). Grounded by the leader’s imperturbable ostinatos, the band lay out the jagged opening melodies, barely finishing before Facey leaps to the fore with a torrent of declamatory statements. His prodigious technique is firmly rooted in the bop lexicon, but the harmonically spacious structures created by Tetteh’s guitar and the leader’s solid yet flexible basslines allow him the freedom to range freely through the accumulated vocabulary of the succeeding generations, picking up and discarding ideas at will without ever sacrificing his sure footed sense of groove and burnished tone.

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If Facey is a man on a mission, burning with the need to deliver his truths, Moses Boyd is his perfect foil. He’s one of those rare drummers who seem to get more relaxed at the kit the faster they play – he matches Facey’s intensity with great surges of power, keeping pace with his technical virtuosity, listening, questioning and commenting, driving him on to greater heights or suggesting new directions. Tetteh makes her own carefully considered contributions – unobtrusive but integral to the flow of the conversation. Her thoughtful, clean-toned solos draw some of the warmest applause of the night.

The first set features just two numbers and lasts over an hour. Crosby is a relaxed but attentive presence, arms wrapped around his bass as he guides his cohort through their free-wheeling discourse, until Facey concludes his tribute to Ornette by bringing the dynamic down to barely-audible tones, leaving the capacity crowd in pin-drop silence that breaks into wild applause. The second set moves into a more varied and structured programme. There’s a ballad dedicated to Crosby’s partner Janine, an M-Base style deconstruction of the perennial ‘Oleo’, a grooving take on Afrobeat, even a Bob Marley cover, all showing the band’s versatility and the richness of the musical heritage that’s brought into play.  

The New Generation Jazz project was set up to bring young jazz players together with young audiences, to reinforce the often precarious position the music faces when it leaves the major cities. Groundation prove to be a perfect match for the stated aim, and the sight of iPhones held aloft in the crowd shows that they’re doing the job of spreading the message to a younger generation. A tour and an album would be a welcome addition to their distinguished CV.

– Eddie Myer (review and photos)

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