LIVE: The Transatlantic Collective

21 November 08 words: Ian Kingsbury
A group of scarily talented jazz maestros from both sides of The Pond with a roguish sense of fun
The Transatlantic Collective - photo by Dom Henry (c)
The Transatlantic Collective - photo by Dom Henry

The TransAtlantic Collective is a group of scarily talented jazz maestros from both sides of The Pond. Formed in 2005 by US-born Michael Janisch (double bass) and Patrick Cornelius (alto sax), for this show the group was composed of Luxemborg’s Paul Wiltgen on drums with guest talent in the form of John Escreet of Doncaster on piano and London-via-Vancouver trumpeter Jay Phelps, who was on a bit of a busmen’s holiday from his regular horn duties with Empirical. Before this evening, Jay had never performed live with the TA Collective, but he fitted right in, like a brass hand in a silky jazz glove.

Jay Phelps from Empirical - photo by Dom Henry (c)
Jay Phelps from Empirical - photo by Dom Henry

The Collective kicked off with Patrick Cornelius’s ‘Turns Out’, a ditty with an easy-swing feel, florid piano runs and chop-change drums. Jay’s trumpet struck me as the most Miles Davis-inspired I’ve ever heard: sparse, spare, chromatic snatches played with great tone and a real sense of exploration. Ol’ quick-silver fingers Mcbassist, Michael Janisch, was a powerful, driving presence all night, but his speed, fluency, imagination and dextrous mastery of such a hulking instrument was really remarkable. Double bass solos can sometime be a tad “yeah, let him have his turn”, but Michael’s were inspired.

Michael Janisch on bass - photo by Dom Henry (c)Patrick Cornelious on alto sax and Jay Phelps on horn - photo by Dom Henry (c)

Next was a Cole Porter composition, arranged by über-drummer Paul, called ‘It’s all right with me'. At this point, proceedings got massively good. The intricacy, touch, feel and inventiveness, both individually and collectively, were truly cause for joyous audience genuflection. With total unity of purpose, and dizzying individual brilliance, the chaps achieved a seemingly effortless ensemble perfection, which is so damn hard to review. Well, hard without sounding like a pretentious, gushing ponce.

Paul Wiltgen on drums - photo by Dom Henry
Paul Wiltgen on drums - photo by Dom Henry

The title track from their latest album, ‘Travelling Song’, opened with a solo melody bass line. Michael and Patrick co-lead the Collective, so it was a very rare and welcome treat to hear a double bassist taking such prominence. Paul’s masterfully percussive, double-time drums lent a drum ‘n’ bass feel to the song, which evolved into a dense and dazzling weave of sound. John Escreet pulled out a great unaccompanied piano solo, full of classical chord progressions – tender, evocative tinkling of the loveliest order. On cue, up stepped Patrick Cornelius for some sultry, plush, Film Noir-ish sax work, which segued into funky call-and-response horn-on-horn action.

‘Sad Dance’, or ‘Danse Triste’ in translation, was a delicate balled which tempered the preceding up-tempo fare. Paul’s dainty use of soft drum mallets made the rivets in his special jazz cymbals fizz away, providing a sibilant wash of sound against which the poignant tune unfolded. ‘New Blues’, another Cornelius original, soon hit its fluid, freewheeling, frenzied stride with a pulverising attack on the piano. Evident all evening, but especially so during this number, was the band’s roguish sense of fun, élan and good humoured interplay.

Jay Phelps and Michael Janisch - photo by Dom Henry

During the interval, one pleased-as-punch punter succinctly summed up his judgement with “the smile says it all, really”. Not for me, mush. I’ve got to translate this beautiful, temporal sonic kaleidoscope into clunky, linear strings of language units. If only I could submit a photo of my beaming mug by way of review. During the break the sound engineer slapped on some Weather Report, that redoubtable jazz fusion supergroup of the 1970s, and I fancied that the alien plinkings of keyboardist Joe Zawinal were echoed in the first number of the second half.

Other numbers included ‘If I Were A Bell’, with a great Jelly Roll Morton style stride piano solo, ‘Shiver Song’, ‘Minor Steps’, a tune after John Coltrane, and ‘Precisely Now’ which perfectly encapsulates what great jazz is all about – technique, imagination, feeling and improvisatory ebullience all coming together in the (oh, so hard to review) moment.

The calibre of performers who play Jazzsteps events is, without toadying hyperbole, world-class. So, when I say that the TransAtlantic Collective are one of the freshest, most accomplished and compelling jazz groups I’ve ever seen, I reckon that’s praise enough.

The Transatlantic Collective played at the Bonington Theatre Arnold on Thursday 20 November 2008 as part of Nottingham Jazz Steps.

The Transatlantic Collective website

Jazz Steps website


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