Will Vinson/Lage Lund Quartet

Will Vinson (alto saxophone), Lage Lund (guitar), Ben Street (bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums), JJ Smyth’s, Dublin, 17 January 2010

Ever since Duke Ellington arrived in Manhattan in 1923 to take up residency at the Hollywood Club on Forty-Ninth Street, New York City has been, as critic Gary Giddins puts it, ‘the focus for jazz’s maturity and evolution’. For nearly a century, musicians from all over the world, renowned as they may be in their own localities, have felt compelled to head to New York to sharpen their reputations and temper their improvisational steel in the fire of its late-night scene.

NY NOW is an Improvised Music Company concert series put together to highlight for Irish audiences the Big Apple’s perennial ability to attract the best in young international jazz. In the first of eight NY NOW gigs to be presented this year, the Will Vinson/Lage Lund Quartet played before a full house – they gave two sets that swingingly proved that New York is still where the heat is. It was a fine start to a well-conceived series.

The shape of this group is a thoroughly international quadrilateral: Vinson, an English alto saxophonist who has been based in New York for over a decade; Lund, a Norwegian guitarist and winner of the 2005 Thelonious Monk Competition; American Ben Street, bassist of choice for many of jazz’s finest players, from Kurt Rosenwinkel to Danilo Perez; and German drummer Jochen Rueckert, another dynamic European export who has called Brooklyn home since 1995.

Under Vinson’s leadership, the band played a programme of mostly original music. Vinson is equally comfortable playing with storming energy or cool restraint. Irish fans may know his bright, attacking alto style from his work with Belfast guitarist Mark McKnight, but he is a thoughtful composer as well, as the free-wheeling ‘I Am James Bond’ and the tight, vibrant ‘Philosophers’ showed. Like Greg Osby, Vinson fashions alto lines that are lean and astringent, with surprising bursts of lyricism.

But as strong as Vinson is, the individual standout was Lund, a remarkably fluent guitarist whose clean tone, beautifully contoured runs and effortless prowess belie his youthful looks. His solos were carefully structured but casually natural, and his writing, especially the sublime ‘Twelve Beats’, had a warmth and delicacy that the drier Vinson compositions lacked. Backed by Street, who with infectious enthusiasm gave solid and creative support, Lund offered the audience most of the evening’s high points, especially his burning work on Charlie Parker’s ‘Cheryl’, the sole non-original of the night. Little wonder that he frequently leads bands at New York’s most progressive small clubs, as well as larger venues like Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center.

Published on 1 February 2010

Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.

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