Edwards and Castle pursue chaotic pulse at The Verdict

  K3A5328

'Crossover' is a word much employed by critics when talking about the current crop of young UK jazz artists, but tonight's event reminds us that cross-fertilisation has been quietly going on in the background of the scene for some time. Both the protagonists have strong jazz credentials – Mark Edwards, for instance, was longtime pianist for the late lamented Bobby Wellins, and you can find Ben Castle providing saxophone for countless recordings with the likes of Lianne Carroll, Jacqui Dankworth and Geoff Gascoyne. The setting is the impeccably jazz-centric Verdict club, and the audience is drawn largely from its pool of devotees. Yet both men can also be found, equally and effortlessly at home, roaming freely across the wider territories of pop and rock, from Radiohead to Katie Melua, and the simply uncategorisable creations of such as Matthew Herbert.

Tonight the stage is festooned with garlands of cables, banks of keyboards, blinking digital displays and dusty analogue effect pedals, giving fair warning that we're not in for an evening of hushed, reverent duo renditions. A typically effusive introduction from host Andy Lavender is immediately sampled and warped into a filtered, pulsing loop – synth arpeggios and streams of electronic bubbles sketch out an open landscape through which Edwards and Castle wander at will, scattering handfuls of half-familiar melody, alternately lushly romantic chords and dark clusters of notes from the piano, squelchy sequenced basslines and scraps of found sound. It's briefly reminiscent of the kind of territory explored by The Orb – but in this MIDI and Ableton-free environment, the tempos shift up and down at random, creating a far more unpredictable climate. All sorts of aural flotsam swirls around in the sonic maelstrom, briefly surfacing before submerging again – bits of 'Autumn Leaves' and 'Pent Up House', what sounds like the theme music to Blankety Blank and a twisted mash-up of Miles Davis and Status Quo. Suddenly everything comes together in an upsurge of ascending chords, and Castle seizes the moment, and demonstrates what a fine player he is, with a wonderful clear tone and clean articulation, as a flood of melodic ideas tumble out over a wash of Vaughan Williams chords, providing an oasis of real beauty.

Set two brings the added delight of Castle on clarinet, dropping fragments of 'I Can't Give You Anything But Love' over a pulsing balearic groove – the pair visibly relax and exchange smiles as Edwards manipulates recordings of Trump speeches into horror-movie monster tones over dark synth textures. The magesterial, declamatory melody of Coltrane's 'Resolution' morphs into a nightmarish version of The Archers theme tune, an incident that instigates regrettable outbreaks of onstage corpsing; as if to make amends, 'Coronation Street" is twisted into 'Acknowledgment'. The set finishes with shards of 'Darn That Dream' drifting over spacious, otherwordly electronic tones. There's no encore, of course – "It would take another three hours," explains Edwards – but the rapturous reception to this wholly unpredictable, entirely improvised journey through sound shows how many different sonic avenues can be successfully explored while still carrying the banner of jazz forward.

– Eddie Myer 
– Photo by David Forman     

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