Old-school fusion is alive and well and coming to a venue near you during this week’s London Jazz Festival. In the vacuum left after Tribal Tech‘s extended sabbatical in 2000, a number of units have emerged to take on the Miles Davis/Weather Report/Herbie Hancock template and run with it. The latest is this powerful group led by London-born, US-based bassist Janek Gwizdala who is fast becoming one of the most dynamic players on the world scene. Like other killer 5-string low-enders Matthew Garrison, John Patitucci, Anthony Jackson and Gary Willis, he has all the chops but thankfully seems more interested in playing music than flying around the guitar neck. His brother in rhythm, drummer and pianist Gary Husband, is one of the current superstars of jazz/rock thanks to his pulsating solo projects and choice sideman gigs with John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth. But this unit threw up a few newish names too – exciting young drum virtuoso Louie Palmer and promising saxist Duncan Eagles.
Gwizdala’s compositions were often melodically simple but the main focus here was on the gripping, slow-building solo sections. Sometimes one yearned for a guitarist like Scott Henderson or McLaughlin to spar with Husband and Gwizdala but Eagles dug in admirably, latching on to any rhythmic curveballs that Husband threw him. ‘The Space Inbetween’ began with some brooding piano and intriguing synth soundscapes from Husband before an uncannily elastic bass solo from Gwizdala featuring huge intervallic leaps. ‘Gimme That Stern Look’, written for guitarist Mike Stern, had an air of Miles Davis’s ‘Jean Pierre’ about it in melody and dynamics. Husband sounded liberated in this environment, particularly on his own tune ‘Solly’ which he littered with quirky, engaging phrases that brought out his inner Joe Zawinul. ‘Theatre By The Sea’ showcased some outrageous chordal playing from Gwizdala, sounding like Pat Metheny one minute and Lenny Breau the next. This was an exciting night of London Jazz Festival music from a red-hot band in a great venue. Here’s hoping for much more this week.