Jakob Bro Leads Rare Trio Date at London’s Vortex
Keep them waiting, but not for too long. That was Jon Christensen’s method as the Norwegian drummer—best known for his tenure in the Keith Jarrett European Quartet, the Belonging band—settled on the stage to perform at this very rare appearance in a London jazz club.
Christensen, who turns 70 on March 20, began his Feb. 18 show at the Vortex using just his hands. It was as if the drummer who did not speak a word during the set was saying, “Who needs sticks?”
It was left to Jakob Bro, whose music the trio played, to do the talking after a couple of tunes, the Dane’s face slightly stubbled, expectant and alert, in front of a board of electronics, his lightly amplified guitar softly decanting abstract hymns to the night. Christensen by then had picked up some black-and-white marked drumsticks, making the most subtle of brittle hits, reserving the power of his tympani-like mallet rolls for much later in the set.
Completing the trio in the middle of the stage was Harlem-based double bassist Thomas Morgan, wearing a cardigan he would later remove, such was the hot house atmosphere of the packed club. Warm bodies and the added heat from the candles on the tables sent the room temperature climbing on what was a chilly Hackney night outside in the square.
All three players have one significant thing in common: They’ve all worked closely with trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, whose latest album, Wisława (ECM), the first in his career to be recorded exclusively in the United States, has just been released, and on which Morgan appears. Bro was on Dark Eyes, Stanko’s previous album, but Christensen goes way back. He appeared on Litania, Stanko’s majestic take on the music of Krzysztof Komeda released in 1997, and before that on the difficult-to-get-hold-of gem Bluish.
The Bro trio, according to a rumor circulating in the club and not denied by the label, has just been signed by ECM but has yet to enter the studio. Bro and Morgan have the shared experience of recording as a unit with Lee Konitz and Bill Frisell on the album Time, and the Vortex set’s second tune was “Northern Blues,” a beguilingly tender ballad from that album.
Morgan stole the show frequently with his beautiful big tone and harmonic dexterity, the instrument’s natural vibrations captured perfectly without any artifice of any sort, his technique at the disposal of the trio’s improvisational skill. The most remarkable tune of the night, featuring a monstrous groove from Morgan worthy of any self-respecting troll lurking in the annals of Norse mythology, was “And They All Came Marching Out of the Woods.” The mild-mannered Morgan was utterly transformed.
The Vortex felt like a recording studio, the place stacked with regular fans, newcomers and musicians who had come down on their night off. Spotted in the club were saxophonist Julian Siegel, currently working on charts for his big band, and pianist Hans Koller, who has recently recorded with Mike Gibbs for an upcoming Whirlwind Recordings debut.
Before the Bro trio took to the stage, the support slot was provided by Partikel, the south London club Hideaway’s regular Monday house band. With not a harmony instrument in sight, saxophonist Duncan Eagles with bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford impressed on the woozy “Conquistador,” from their 2010 self-titled album. Think of the sound of JD Allen on I Am I Am played through the filter of an English sense of melancholia, and you’ll get the measure of the fast-maturing Partikel.
Clearly a major force in jazz guitar with his quietly assertive abstractions and subtle use of electronics, Bro will appear as part of an all-star tribute to Paul Motian, curated by Bill Frisell, at Symphony Space in New York City on March 22.