This is the last show in the tour and there’s an end-of-term vibe on the Verdict’s crowded stage as our genial host Roxanne introduces the band to the packed house. “I’ve been having a lot of fun” says John Turville (pictured), adding wryly, “and I think the band have too”. The band, sporting the kind of scruffily relaxed semi-formal look typical of Higher Education academics (which several of them are during daylight hours), seem to concur; then it’s straight into the first number, ‘Fall Out’, drawn from Turville’s recent album, Head First. The complex head is negotiated with ease and a close eye on the chart, then Julian Argüelles surges ahead on tenor, with a torrent of ideas, followed by Robbie Robson’s powerfully precise trumpet, and the leader’s light-touch, effortlessly inventive piano flowing into a cunningly executed coda. The two horns complement each other each with their full, rounded tone, accurate articulation and endlessly fertile, oblique melodicism.
Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor are guiding lights here, and the band are perfectly suited to a spirited interpretation of the former’s ‘4-5-6’, all the soloists coaxing a flow of lyrical ideas from the advanced harmonic base. Argüelles enjoyed a long association with Taylor, and ‘Ennerdale’, written by Turville in tribute, sees him rising off Dave Whitford’s big-toned, carefully constructed solo statement to raise the temperature with some inspired improvisation; his own ‘A Month In Tunisia’ has an airily precise latin lilt – a natural fit for Turville, who deploys a similar feel in his own ‘Head First’ – that leads into a super exciting drum solo from the prodigious Dave Maddren.
For all the band’s unassuming demeanour, these are outsize talents in this packed, intimate room. The second set starts with ‘Almagro Nights’ rearranged from trio format so that the full band fly over the complex, supple riffing. Then there’s a sax/piano duet, with Argüelle’s melting tone on soprano, never harsh or shrill even in the highest register, building up in telepathic correspondence with Turville’s arpeggios and swelling into a perfect torrent of notes, until the wave seems to break and the band come in with the rippling, dancing figures of ‘Perfect Foil’. This is music-making of the very highest order, and it’s a rare treat to witness it so close at hand. To follow, Turville puts the band through their paces with a knotty re-working of Coltrane’s already challenging ’26-2′, with generous additions of metric modulation leading to a joyous group free-improv – then there’s a Bill Evans ballad, ‘Laurie’, dedicated to Turville’s partner, and an artful arrangement of Michel Pettruciani’s ‘Beautiful But Why?’ that provides a welcome dose of straightahead swing.
“This is my dream band,” says Turville in conclusion, and it’s impossible to disagree – there’s such a perfect match between their expansive abilities and the leader’s vision, and it feels as though there’s no limit to the amount of music they can make together. We are treated to an encore of ‘Francisca’ by Toninho Horta; Argüelles wedges bits of paper into his horn as an impromptu repair, everyone soars in solo, and then we’re left to return to whatever mundanity awaits us, carrying the memory of this exceptional two hours of artistic creation.
– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Anya Arnold