By Troy Dostert
On the second disc in this two-disc release from Michael Moore’s Available Jelly, the band performs a version of the Ellington/Troop classic “The Feeling of Jazz.” And what a fitting tune it is, for that’s precisely what the band provides on this fantastic live recording. All the emotions and sensations that jazz embodies are here in spades: joyous exuberance, somber reflection, unstoppable energy, and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure as well.
Moore (alto sax, clarinet) is joined here by his long-standing collaborators: Eric Boeren (cornet), Wolter Wierbos (trombone), Tobias Delius (tenor sax, clarinet), Ernst Glerum (bass), and Michael Vatcher (drums, percussion). The group delights in teetering just on the edge of chaos, as tunes threaten to come completely unraveled, only to be woven back together despite the odds. Playing of this nature can only happen when the members of a group know each other so well that they can experiment with this kind of controlled recklessness, and these guys played together for well over a decade, so they can definitely pull it off. The rhythm team of Glerum and Vatcher is essential to this process, as both manage somehow to keep things anchored on even the most complex tracks, even when things seem to be going off the rails.
Most of the tunes are Moore’s compositions, along with several well-chosen standards taken from the Ellington canon; in addition to the aforementioned “Feeling of Jazz,” the group offers beautiful performances of Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” and Ellington’s “Village of the Virgins” and “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So.” These songs are played fairly straightforwardly, without too many hijinks; Moore’s feel for Ellington’s work is spot-on, and the arrangements capture the moods of Ellington’s pieces quite nicely. Indeed, the winding, rich harmonies played by the four horns are one of the greatest strengths of all the songs, including Moore’s own pieces. Moore clearly knows how to write horn charts, and he does it with intelligence and creativity for maximum advantage here. Whether the tune is a bouncy, energetic piece like “Kwela for Taylor,” or a more melancholy, restrained number such as “Chy,” Moore crafts subtle and intriguing harmonies consistently.
In addition to the melodic sophistication of Moore’s songs, what stands out about the group’s work as a whole is its stylistic range: the group can switch rhythmic structures seamlessly, going from freely-improvised to composed sections with barely a ripple. And the jazz tradition in all its grandeur is alive and well in these pieces, as a bit of Dixieland or old-fashioned swing can come into play whenever Vatcher and Glerum decide to take the tunes in that direction. A great example of the range of styles in Moore’s writing would be “Bundle of Shorts,” on the second disc. A clever mix of free playing and composed horn parts begins the track, with a fair bit of growling and squealing along the way from all four horns; following that, a groove gradually develops, with Glerum and Vatcher asserting themselves and providing a pulse for the others to follow. Vatcher introduces a shuffle-beat behind the horns at this point, sometimes obviously, other times less so. Finally, about midway through the tune Vatcher really lets loose, as with Glerum he introduces a driving, New Orleans-style second line march rhythm, and the horns really pick up steam behind it. Then, as if this weren’t enough, yet another rhythmic variation is brought into the mix, as we’ve suddenly traveled from New Orleans to South Africa, and the tune ends rapturously with a township groove. An amazing mix of sounds, impressions, and moods, in just one piece. And both discs are full of such powerful, imaginative music-making. The “Feeling of Jazz” indeed.
It’s a special treat to hear this music in a live environment, as the musicians’ enthusiasm and sense of fun clearly invigorate their appreciative crowd. This was billed as the last concert recorded by this line-up, which does add a note of sadness to the proceedings; but we can still be grateful that this document was able to capture the group’s distinctive spirit so well. Curiously, the discs are being sold separately—but I wouldn’t want to be without either one. They are both superb and come highly recommended.
You can buy the discs direct from Ramboy.