‘This is the music you’ve been looking for, the jazz you want to hear’. Canadian pianist and Fringe regular Ron Davis makes quite the claim on his promo posters, and repeats it in person here tonight. His mission, he says, is to remove some of the snootiness associated with jazz; his method is this hybrid form, created by melding a jazz quartet of keyboard, guitar, upright bass and drums to a classical string quartet. Sales patter it may be, but it’s not without foundation. This is accessible, fluid jazz and makes for an easy-going evening.
It isn’t jazz-does-the-classics, though, it’s subtler than that. The string quartet are absorbed into the jazz idiom with the upright bass an obvious link between the two. Works are influenced by classical composers’ styles, or in some cases there’s more explicit lifting of a motif, but they don’t rely on them.
Davis introduces most pieces in pairs, with a quick explanation of their origin. One’s influenced by Bach. One by Beethoven. One, influenced by Handel, is called Canada’s Palace Hill (an anagram related to the composer if you can decipher it). Astor Piazzolla gets a tribute in a tune that combines the tango, Davis’ Canadian roots, and his compulsion to include his name in everything, into the unwieldy title ToRONtango.
Other times, they come at things from the jazz side. Miles Davis’ So What? gets a minimalist makeover, with different rhythms, shimmering strings. ‘Not rearranged, deranged,’ says Davis (Ron, no relation), which is a not unreasonable description. Presto lives up to its name with the quartet able to let rip at speed. (Tonight, the quartet is made up of Aisling O’Dea and Louise Bevan on violins, Adam Robinson on viola and Clea Friend on cello).
Musical director and fellow Canadian Kevin Barrett keeps things tight, and ekes some handsome sounds from his guitar. It’s a transatlantic combo though, with Stephen ‘Hendo’ Henderson and Emma Smith doing a sterling job on drums and bass respectively.
The make-up of tonight’s audience suggests Davis might not be 100% successful in hitting new converts. It does feel like a mainly jazz crowd. But there’s no reason why he couldn’t. This is a groovy evening.