Andrew McCormack's Graviton Hit The Ground Running At Ronnie's

 Graviton IMG 0641

The acoustic at Soho's iconic venue changes quite considerably according to one's position in the room. For the opening set I'm at a table within touching distance of the stage, while for the second space frees up at the bar. Back there things are more graduated, but right down front the sound explodes into earshot, underlining in no uncertain terms that Graviton is the first electric band led by pianist-composer Andrew McCormack. In the course of an eventful career he has developed an impressive modernist voice as a member of bands led by Denys Baptiste, as well as a trio leader and part of a brilliant duo with Jason Yarde. But this ensemble, which made its eponymous debut CD last year, is arguably the 'heaviest' of his career to date. In drummer Anton Eger and bass guitarist Robin Mullarkey McCormack has an outstanding anchor for his songs, with the former's propulsive patterns on the kick locking in sharply with the latter's hard-funk phrasing, which often gains added subsonic ballast by the use of a purring Moog filter. On vaulting numbers such as 'Breathe' the music freights a punchy Headhunters-like agitation-syncopation, with Mullarkey fitting the dynamic Paul Jackson role to a tee. Vocalist Noemi Nuti and tenor saxophonist Leo Richardson complete the frontline and are an assured presence, performing theme and counterpoint to enrich the overall fabric of the music. As for McCormack, he leads with aplomb and his rolling rhythmic lines, the arpeggios tinged by his grounding in classical music without being constrained by it, make for a solid harmonic pivot around which his colleagues liberally crisscross.

Graviton IMG 0447

Other highlights of the first set include the strikingly fraught 'The Waiting Game' and the bracing samba-led 'Fellowship'. One of the key marks of distinction of the band – the doubling of Nuti's vocal and Richardson's tenor – is perhaps overused at times and there are moments when the latter could play off, rather than with, the former in too uniform a way. The grace of those unison lines, an echo of Flora Purim and Joe Farrell in the first incarnation of Return to Forever, is appreciated all the more when they are not heard as often. With that in mind, the start of the second set is a fantastic curveball – a reprise of Björk's 'Army Of Me', which has a superbly eerie amount of space, a thunderous backbeat and stark, sinister chords that take the engagement with machine-based music heard in the first set to another level. In fact, McCormack's embrace of technology is impressive for its subtlety. The laptop and micro-synthesiser perched on the top of the piano are a far cry from the image of banks of keyboards hemming in a fusion head, but the moment in which he creates digital hiss and hum to blend with Nuti's own wordless distortions is powerful. Things go back uptempo on 'Escape Velocity', which is marked by all the expected polyrhythmic nouse, yet it is McCormack's solo piano piece, 'Dream Catcher', that makes the strongest case for the leader's talent. Remove the not insubstantial resources at his disposal and he still delivers something with a melodic and orchestral complexity that is not left wanting. It bodes well for his forthcoming solo album.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Carl Hyde

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