Mo Foster & Friends make moves at Half Moon, Putney

Monday, January 14, 2019

A Wednesday in early January is never likely to entice the largest audience to an evening of live jazz, but there was a good turnout on the 9th at the Half Moon in Putney to be treated to the classiest playing from six of the UK's top musicians in the shape of Mo Foster & Friends.

After a long career being a trusted "hired hand" providing solid, sophisticated bass on-stage and instudio for artists such as Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Sting, Van Morrison and Joan Armatrading, Foster has achieved a long-lasting ambition of putting together his "dream team" of players performing music of his choice, and it's a perfect combination.

The inspiration comes from Foster's experiences with Gil Evans in the 1980s, and the new project aims to resurrect that sound with a smaller footprint. It works beautifully. The improvisational skills of Ray Russell on guitar, Chris Biscoe on reeds and Jim Watson on keyboards lead the way. These dazzling performers move the music through exhilarating textures and dynamics, pulling the sound in fresh directions while maintaining a masterly coherence. It's rare when enjoying a live solo improv to be caught suddenly by a "what on Earth was that!" uplift as the other player produces something so rhythmically or harmonically unexpected and complimentary that it raises the experience to another level entirely. Far from being distractions from the soloist’s spot, these delicious combinations amplify and enrich the result. Chris Biscoe’s playing produced a number of these extraordinary moments. What he can do with an alto clarinet or a soprano sax simply amazes.

Overall, the way the members of this group take their cues from each other and adapt the collective sound to the moment, while keeping it structured and highly melodic, is probably beyond all but the most adept musical brains to fully appreciate, but we lesser mortals can enjoy being warmed by the glow. One of the finest parts of this music is Foster's own bass playing. The feel and quality he can put into timing, pressure and timbre of a single note, an arpeggio or bass chord, can take your breath away. Nic France's tasteful energy on drums and Corrina Silvester's sensitive, precise percussion on a fascinating array of instruments comprise a perfect framework for the improvisational front trio to do their thing.

The balanced set includes works by Gil Evans from his collaborations with Miles Davis, Mike Gibbs, John Lewis, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius. "Gone" by Gershwin and Heyward was a favourite of mine, with a concerto-like structure, beautiful melody and broad spaces for improvisation. An encore of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” with solos from Russell and Biscoe was a gem of an ending to the evening.

There are no egos in this ensemble. Individually they have nothing more to prove as players. As a result the playing is relaxed and focussed, six masters having fun creating ephemeral magic. Whatever day of the week, whatever the weather, however far away the gig is, I urge all to go and see this band. I'll see you there.

– Story and photo Ken Appleby

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