I’m currently attending the Jazz and Race Conference at The Open University in the UK, and if the opening reception is any indication, this is going to be a great time—especially if I can manage to get over the jet lag. The conference papers cover a broad range of topics about jazz in its many iterations throughout the world. It’s astounding to see the kinds of compelling topics that will be covered from jazz and fashion to jazz in fascist Spain, and many, many more. This is a rowdy bunch of scholars, and the atmosphere has a loose wire charge to it, making it very unlike the conference of the American Musicological Society’s annual gathering that I attended in Indianapolis last week (sorry for the rub my erstwhile colleagues, but it’s true).
We were treated in the reception to a slammin’ quartet featuring some young talent from London. Featuring the very talented Peter Edwards (piano), Max Luthert (bass), Saleem Raman (drums), and Binker Golding (tenor sax), the members are all associated with the bassist Gary Crosby’s collective Tomorrow’s Warriors, a direct legacy of the 1980s movement among black Brits in the 1980s. The group was clearly enjoying themselves playing standards like Miles Davis’ “Four,” “You, the Night, and the Music, and “Moment’s Notice.” They played the music with a post-bop flexibility that was grounded in classic bop techniques—no verbatim transcriptions here, inspiration ruled the evening.
I was particularly impressed with Mr. Edwards, who cut the figure of a young Ramsey Lewis but whose influences reminded me of the masters Cedar Walton and Wynton Kelly. His motivic control was excellent, executed through melodic sequences that were juxtaposed to fluid bebop lines and that had enough rhythmic subtlety to not sound stiff or rehearsed. (His set list was being read from his smart phone which was also loaded with the Real Book, just in case one can’t remember the tricky bridge section of standard (you gotta love this). His gear was equally intriguing. Edwards played soulfully from a smallish digital piano keyboard in a fantastic “Scarbee” Fender Rhodes patch. This was run through a Duet interface into a Mac that hosted a program called Main Stage, which is part of a Logic 9 bundle package. He was amplified through a small Roland amp that was more than enough to handle the job. I learned a lot in this set-up as it taught me that you can get a great electric piano sound without breaking your back by lugging big equipment around. Analogue and digital worlds are finally making peace it seems. I’m already learning and the conference hasn’t even started yet.