Jazz breaking news: Marcus Strickland gets heavy in Hoxton

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On a moon-lit evening in Hoxton with little fanfare, a decent crowd gathered at Charlie Wright's for the first appearance in London in over a year of the Marcus Strickland Quartet.

As you read this they’re on their way to play a gig in Rotterdam.

Brooklyn-based saxophonist Strickland, well known for his own records and in Dave Douglas’ Keystone band especially on the formidable outing Moonshine, was at the Pitfield Street jazz bar with the gradually expansive David Bryant on piano, Ameen Saleem bass, known for his work in the Roy Hargrove band in for Ben Williams here, and Marcus’ twin brother, the mighty EJ Strickland on drums.

The Stricklands have a big reputation Stateside despite or should that be because they play hard bop. Always in fashion, always out of fashion if that matters in your reckoning, hard bop in their hands is full of fire, technically daunting, never dry, and devoid of all the clichés the genre is unfortunately known for. It’s as if the Stricklands memorised, in Marcus’ case every hard bop type thing Trane, Wayne and Joe Henderson did at birth, and just moved on. In EJ’s case we’re talking Philly Joe, Tony Williams, and Freddie Waits, too.

Both are witnesses to and participants of, and it’s easy but fitting to drop in, the Triumph of the Heavy (Vol 1&2) their latest quite superb breakthrough, and very appropriately-named, double album. It’s heavy in the best sense of the word and certainly not serious or pompous or riddled with the fust of the conservatoire or snakeoil hipster spirituality. Bryant came across interestingly although it would have been better if the well-lit upright piano was a grand piano or baby grand. He plays a bit like Bud Powell would if he were still around and listening to new stuff. He came into his own after the break. Saleem was mobile and handled the tricky harmonies and off beats well, while Strickland had the stamina to tackle mountainous runs on tenor and the subtlety to attribute character and emotion to their lines. EJ was a revelation, tough but tender, and the band has an empathy that borders on telepathy that kept hold of the audience, with the jaggedly yearning ‘Mudbone’ a definite highlight.

Stephen Graham

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