His highest profile work so far may have been with Phronesis and Kairos 4Tet, but the packed house for this tour-opening launch for his new album, Strata, suggests pianist Ivo Neame’s time as leader has come. Affably tongue-tied when he tries to explain his music, his authority lies in its warmth and lightly worn complexity, and his Quintet’s good-natured excitement.
Saxophonist/flautist Tori Freestone and vibes man Jim Hart make contrasting, stellar soloists. Freestone’s musical character is partly shown by Strata’s title track, softly breathy when she enters, and whispering a fanfare at its end. A low-key, lucidly melodic improviser, she sounds breezily relaxed on ‘Eastern Chant’, her tenor entwining with Neame’s accordion before sailing into long, high, Coltranesque lines, finishing to satisfied sighs from an engrossed crowd as the spell breaks. She’s quizzical, considered and sunny.
Hart is the showman, hammering the vibes on the offbeat before chucking the baton at Neame’s piano to maintain a flying start, and crashing through ‘Yodelling’, taking the rhythm section with him, till Freestone finds more contemplative flute lines to explore. It’s a perfect balance of thrills and beauty, thought and brawn. For all Neame’s jerkily punctuated rhythms and further out ideas – inspired by geology, Bach and Seamus Heaney – there’s an approachable immediacy to this music which crosses the jazz generations. The right up for it crowd recognise the real thing, kicking the band up another gear.
Neame himself starts on accordion, an unexpectedly flexible jazz colour. On his more familiar piano, he plays near-hard bop on ‘A Kite for Ivin’, attentively comps, finds a softly introspective, late-night touch on the ballad ‘Miss Piggy’, and hits overdrive when required. The punning ‘Owl of Me’ is a characteristically benign attempt at spookiness, Tom Farmer’s bass helping formulate its tiptoe, goblin-foot patter.
There’s an almost orchestral fullness to the sound near set’s end, driven by Dave Hamblett’s bass drum into a gammy-legged, woozy stampede. Among the satisfied smiles either side of the stage, Neame’s is dazedly disbelieving at just how well a tour can start.
– Nick Hasted