On Thursday night (20/10/16), I was lucky enough to go to see British jazz pianist, Ivo Neame with his quintet at the Capstone theatre here in Liverpool. I’ve been following Ivo Neame as a part of his other band – the jazz trio, Phronesis – for quite some time, and was excited to see his skills as a performer and composer play out on a grander musical scale. Ivo’s immensely talented quintet consists of long-time collaborator, Jim Hart, on vibraphone, Tori Freestone on tenor saxophone, Huw Williams on upright bass and Dave Hamblett on Drums.

The atmosphere of the performance was a modest one. Neame seemed to prefer subtlety and minimal showboating, keeping the compèring to a minimum and focusing almost exclusively on the music itself. This allowed for the music, rather than the musicians, to be the star of the show, and boy was it a show! The band opened with the title track of Neame’s latest album, Strata. The piece set the tone for the entire performance with its multiple, intricate instrumental parts all weaving together to create something that felt unified, ambitious and incredibly powerful. The song ‘Strata’ was defined by a serene, yet simultaneously driving and energetic groove that led into a soaring melody, played with gusto by Freestone on the saxophone, which later collapsed into the cascade of calculated dissonance that was Neame’s complex and highly rhythmic piano solo.

The second song in the band’s set, ‘Song for the Lost Nomads’ (the first of two Phronesis songs reinterpreted for quintet) was an absolute joy to watch, not least because of Ivo’s typical, high energy rhythm section writing. American saxophonist, Bob Reynolds talks often, about the idea of ‘pocket’ – a phenomenon where a piece of music presents to the listener a particularly powerful groove that can feasibly go on forever. He says that a good improviser should be able to fit their solo into said pocket so that the groove can continue to rule supreme. Jim Hart’s vibraphone solo perfectly embodied this idea and really successfully built some exciting melodic variety into the song’s intense groove. It was particularly thrilling and amusing to watch Hart essentially dancing from side to side during his solo, and Neame bouncing around on the piano stool with excitement.

For me, the absolute highlight of the show was a reimagining of the song ‘OK Chorale’, from the latest Phronesis album, Parallax. It was exciting to hear the melody, played by sax and vibes, so clearly pronounced, as on the original it’s embedded within the piano part which also plays the bass line and fills in harmonies. The quintet setting brought new life to an already brilliant song and had me grinning in wonderment from start to finish. Much like in the original song, the quintet’s version was topped off by several drum breaks towards the end. Dave Hamblett played several drum fills that were slick, but not too flashy, which added a sense of calm sophistication to the particularly energetic performance.

Another highlight was the song ‘Ocean of Possibility’, which I adored for its lack of order and structure. Much of it felt like free jazz, with the five musicians improvising over each other, and using extended techniques, like placing clips on the keys of the vibraphone in order to create a more industrial, percussive sound.

I had very few gripes with any part of the performance. I only wished that it had been longer. We were treated to eight songs from the band, all of which were dynamic and exciting, but they always seemed in a rush to move to finish. This may have been as a result of pressure from the venue, but I personally would have liked to hear more from the quintet, certainly more from Strata (although that’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate the exciting new takes on two Phronesis songs). There were several tracks from the new album that I would have been fascinated to watch play out live on stage, particularly ‘Folk Song’, which involves the use of accordion.

Despite these minor issues, I had an amazing experience at the concert. The performances, and the pieces themselves, were excellent, and it was an absolute thrill to watch the interactions between the musicians and the huge amount of fun they all appeared to be having. Additionally, my experience was heightened by my interview with Ivo, and by the fact that I was sitting in front of the proud parents of bassist, Huw Williams, who were gushing about him and some of my favourite musicians from Editions Records (an excellent, British jazz label, with which Ivo and some of his bandmates are affiliated), which added a heart-warming element to the evening. Ivo Neame is writing some of the most interesting jazz of this decade, and having an opportunity to see it performed, as well as having the chance to hear Ivo speak briefly about the thought processes behind the music, is not one that should be passed up.