When I was a child, the passage of weeks was punctuated on Sundays by a familiar, domestic sound, now lost as a metaphor to would-be bloggers and scribblers of the post-1970s world: the first, slow hiss, a few minutes after match ignited gas; gradually, as pressure steadily built, an initial wobble of the cylindrical stainless steel counterweight (with its small ring enabling it, on other days, to double as a plum bob) as it first felt the force of the escaping steam that its inertial mass would prove helpless to resist; the windows of the living room dimming as the vapour content of the air increased. Just like in later years, I could happily watch the washing machine in a launderette revolve for minutes on end, as a child, watching the skittering, wobbling motion of the weight atop the pressure cooker, floating, but not quite lifting off, above our soon to be beyond-al dente accompaniment to the meaty heart of Sunday’s dinner, would be a constant source of pleasure and fascination.
Wind forward fifty years.
At the January edition of JITR, Jez Nelson had commented that the next gig would be something special, a party of sorts, a bit of razzamatazz to help consign the winter blues south, with lots of special guests, although he kept mum as to why. And then I started to hear anxious whispers – would this be a party or a wake? In the world of TV formats, there’s nothing like a bit of confected jeopardy to leaven the dough; likewise, there’s nothing quite like an imminent death to make sharp the sense of how much the loved one is appreciated and will be mourned. Rumours of its demise vastly exaggerated, so Jazz In The Round will live on in the post Jazz On Three world, but what a send-off the programme, now come of age at 18, would receive on the leap day of 2016.
Empirical had helped the hiss get going, to allow me start to fully savour the prospect of this gig, at their remarkable week long, pop-up jazz lounge in Old Street tube, round the corner from my job. What an on-trend, but yet marvellous idea – undoubtedly a teenies thing, we’ve had all manner of pop-ups in recent years, every day I pass a pop-up mall outside Shoreditch Overground, but an improvising jazz quartet playing three hour-long sets a day, in an abandoned retail unit, as City workers and hipsters go foraging for fast food at lunchtime, whoa, what’s occurring here? This is great. As in the tube station, so at The Cockpit, the stand-out track on first hearing it live is the song, “Lethe”, the mythical river of forgetfulness, brought to vivid life in Keats imagination, and still fresh in my memory after the passage of 43 years from O level English Lit.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.
Ignorance can be bliss: coming to jazz relatively late in life, via rock and pop, classical and dance music, I must confess that I’d never before heard of our solo artiste tonight, Django Bates. However, I found his surreal mix of sung-spoken poetry, piano and brass thing – I’m still not sure what that was - to be enchanting and lovely.
Jez had pulled out all the stops for the last act: a never-before-seen assembly of improvising talent, which spanned the generations, Laura, Alex, Orphy and Evan. Oh man, such knowledge and skill, not a chart to be seen anywhere on stage; cast off, like Jazz On Three, sailing towards an horizon beyond which there are no markers, the stars offer no clue as to the way, but yet the journey is bracing and the senses sharpened in response.
Emotional? Very. Jez had all his family in the house; there were more luminaries and friends that one could speak to for more than a few words. Speeches were made; Jez prompted the audience with his comical radio cues for the last time, then in a blur of light and sound it was gone, just like the fading cadences of the music we love.