Oxford Contemporary Music have a habit of bringing exciting new music to Oxford, and this jazz gig at the North Wall promised to be vibrant display of new jazz. The opening set was by LABtrio, a Belgian group of young musicians that have been playing together for nine years. The band is made up of the accomplished pianist Bram De Looze and drummer Lander Gyselink, along with bassist Anneleen Boehme. They've created an ethereal, submerged style, punctuated by gruff, angular piano lines and inventive bass improvisation. Gyselink's drum work is intensely complex without being obtrusive, and some of the textures evoked by wordless singing were hauntingly beautiful. While the serenity of their playing was compelling, it felt like it eroded any sense of dynamicity in the music. LABtrio's set passed like a meditation, absorbing but oddly flat.
The gig was staged by Match & Fuse, an organisation that brings together similar bands from around Europe. The bands both play sets, between which they are 'fused', playing a short improvised set with members from each group. It's a fun premise and has the potential to create something fantastic. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite been thought out properly. Instead of using the immense skill of both groups of musicians to create music, or to play each others' charts, a brand new improvisation occurs in every show. LABtrio and Dinosaur have been touring this show for a while, so they've tried out lots of combinations, but in this performance the stage was taken by Bram De Looze, the pianist of LABtrio and Corrie Dick, the drummer from Dinosaur. The result was a bizarre mess of noise, playing with the effects of both their instruments in an incoherent, and entirely un-'fused' way.
Laura Jurd is rapidly making a big trumpet-shaped mark on the UK and European jazz scene. Her nimble improvisation is enough, but her innovative use of electronics has really helped her to stand out. Favouring tons of reverb or a doubling pedal, her manipulation of timbre is styled perfectly within her compositions. Jurd made one of her initial marks as a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and it's clear that the big band style hasn't quite left her. Big, punching grooves with high-energy, full textures are supported by really forceful and grounded work from Corrie Dick on drums and Conor Chaplin, the bassist. The tunes often follow in Avishai Cohen's footsteps, simple and bold, dragging the chords along with them. With striking clarity they emerge from dense, cloudy improvisation - largely from Jurd and the wildly vivacious pianist, Elliot Galvin - demanding attention, beautifully resonant with melodic simplicity.
The difference between the two groups seemed related to origin of style: LABtrio's music has a jazz pedigree, following increasingly abstract and distant chord changes and textures. It has a place in tradition and the band are doing innovative stuff by remoulding older styles. Dinosaur have taken the opposite direction: by taking heavy influence from rock, folk and classical music, Dinosaur just assume jazz as the only music. They incorporate other styles into that music. Other bands like Snarky Puppy and the Beats and Pieces Big Band are making similar moves, and it results in a gorgeously harmonic and really exciting sound, defined by bands like Dinosaur.