Since its debut early last year, the Dublin quartet Togetherness has grown into one of the leading lights of the Irish jazz scene. Impressive performances at 12Points! and the Bray Jazz Festival demonstrated the group’s ability to combine complex melodies with driving rhythms and to do it with faultless cohesion. Their first album maintains these qualities and adds depth of material and a maturity that shows this band has earned its name – it really is together.
The frontline of pianist Justin Carroll and tenor saxophonist Michael Buckley is backed by Simon Jermyn on bass and Sean Carpio on drums. All four are leading practitioners of their instruments, but more important is their shared musical understanding and the power and tautness of their collective sound, evidence not just of sympathy but hard work. All tunes on the album were written by Carroll, who likes to explore rhythmic and harmonic territory first occupied by sixties pioneers Jaki Byard and Andrew Hill, but expanded to include contemporary ideas that give the music great energy and freshness.
Much of that freshness comes from Jermyn’s electric bass lines, which depart in tone and style from the classic jazz upright sound but nevertheless underpin Carroll’s imaginative writing with relentless swing and expressive shifts in tempo. Along with Carpio, who has massive technique and an intense rhythmic energy of his own, the pair create a dynamic platform for the writing and for the equally adventurous solos of the frontline.
‘Coded Remorse’ and the extended composition ‘3 Dot Syndrome’ are good examples of the band’s paradoxical mix of the plain and the complex: starting with simple figures or riffs, they develop a rhythmic density that gives Carroll and Buckley plenty of opportunity for inventive, sinuous improvisation. We are used to Buckley’s authority on tenor – his recent live Coltrane tribute with the Guilfoyle brothers was a masterclass in post-bop technique – yet on this recording he applies his muscular style in a more current mode, closer to, say, Chris Potter than to the giants of the past. And as has been pointed out elsewhere, Carroll’s playing on this disc has arrived at a new level. From the Ravel-like flutters in ‘Coded Remorse’ to the off-centre lines in ‘Pointless Exercise’, he demonstrates an intuitive sense of how to build creatively on his oblique melodies and the technical facility to pull it off.
There is fine rubato playing on this recording but also plenty of the swinging, in-tempo performance that makes this band so exciting to see live – ‘Feelgood Factor’, ‘The Paper Trail’ and ‘A Little Stock’ show how successfully Togetherness has captured that excitement in studio while reminding listeners how, for all its contemporary vision, the band is also a solid and accomplished exponent of the mainstream tradition.
Published on 1 June 2009
Kevin Stevens is is a Dublin-based novelist and writer on history, literature, and jazz.