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Review: Julian Joseph Trio at Live at LICA

Chris Satori
Julian Joseph Trio
Thursday, 21 November 2013
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University

Reviewed by Henry Prince

It was a real treat to have the opportunity to share an evening with the man whose voice is so familiar to listeners of Radio 3’s ‘Jazz Line-up’. It was also a good opportunity to learn more about this imminent figure in the world of contemporary jazz and about his two musical colleagues.

Like Andre Previn, Julian Joseph is equally comfortable and competent playing Bartok or Monk. His own compositions, however, favour the elements of jazz: swung notes, improvisation and mixed rhythms and his creativity has gone well beyond the boundaries of jazz concert performance, extending to both dance and opera.

Some of his work is easy listening but other compositions are better left to jazz aficionados. Thursday’s audience experienced elements from both categories, with pieces often beginning with easy-listening free improvisation on piano and then developing into very complex rhythms and unusual textures.

Percussionist Mark Mondesir has played with Joseph for two decades. More than once during the concert the two of them demonstrated just how close they are musically. Mondesir was allowed far more creativity than would be expected in a jazz piano trio and took the level of drumming improvisation way up the scale, on one occasion unexpectedly playing fortissimo against the piano, as though both players were competing to be heard, and leaving the beat to look after itself somewhere in the players’ imaginations. As such, the audience was often severely challenged to sense the position of the downbeat and had to rely on the rocking heads of the performers for assurance that they at least knew where the beat was.

Jasper Høiby was on double bass and is not a normal member of the Julian Joseph Trio. If you could not have seen for yourself that he was playing from a pad, you would have believed that he was as musically close to Joseph as is Mondesir. Høiby’s contribution to the sounds was exciting, whether through ensemble playing or bass solos. The audience never got the impression that he might be simply following the other two musicians. All three were ‘right there’ together at every sharp artistic bend.

Høiby’s principal job was to maintain the chord progressions. As has become usual though with sophisticated jazz where the layering of improvisations on top of variations of previous improvisations results in an almost total absence of any sense of an original melody, the harmonic structure, like the rhythmic framework, is often left to the imagination whenever the player succumbs to the urge to improvise around the strict bass line. Høiby enjoyed indulging in that as much as McCartney always did on Beatles tracks.

The Great Hall was not full but for such a specialist event as contemporary jazz, the attendance was very good. It did feel a bit odd though to be sitting in rows, retiring to the bar for interval drinks and adhering to other such straight-laced behaviours when the venue could have been set out as a club with relaxed comings and goings. I suppose it all comes down to licensing laws or something.

I was also surprised to see that all the instruments were miked. Okay, just maybe it might be appropriate for a double bass but since when does a drum kit or a grand piano need an amplifier?

H. Prince

Artist’s website:

Tickets were priced (web advance):  Adults £17.50/£14.50, Concessions £14.50/£12.50, Young person/student £7.00

Future musical events at Live at LICA: Live at LICA ‘What’s On