Jazz North East and The Globe treated us to another amazing live jazz performance on Sunday evening, as they continue their series of livestreams featuring both music and comedy. This week the John Pope Quintet graced us with a mixture of original compositions from their new album Mixed With Glass, a tribute to Ornette Coleman, and even their own adaptation of the song ‘In Heaven’ by the alt-rock band, Pixies. The quintet’s set was diverse and musically interesting, featuring some shredding solos, swinging melodies, and interesting experimental exploration. Having listened to Mixed With Glass and its experimental qualities, it’s hard to imagine anything new being added in a live setting – yet, the band’s live playing added a whole new layer to known and well-treaded tracks.
Leader of the band John Pope immediately set the atmosphere with a double bass solo on the first song of the set, ‘The Right Hand Path’. The whole evening’s set was characterised by the sheer space given to solos, and the artistry of each individual player being illuminated before the band came back together to create swinging grooves and catchy group melodies. ‘The Right Hand Path’ is from the quintet’s new release Mixed With Glass, and the virtual audience were also given a taste of some of the other songs featured on it. We heard the album’s title track ‘Mixed With Glass’, ‘Ing’, ‘Country Bears Come North’, and finally ‘Plato’ as an encore. Watching the performance, Pope’s band leading is obvious through his gestures and cues to other members, yet when just listening to the music, it’s also obvious that his bass groove is what pushes the band forward and maintains movement. It was so exciting to watch musicians really listening to each other in a live space again, and responding to each other’s playing. Their sensitivity in playing underneath each other’s solos revealed their attentive listening, and made each solo that much more engaging.
The evening’s performance also featured a reworking of Ornette Coleman’s ‘School Work’ – the band actually initially formed as a tribute band to Coleman, and therefore his influence on their other work makes a lot of sense with this context. The moments of call and response within the performance again exposed the sensitivity of the band’s work, and their appreciation for each other’s playing. On many of the songs in the set, the quintet began to descend into disorientating and exploratory experimental ideas, but always managed to return to the melody with tight-knit playing and an engaging groove. It’s difficult to execute moving from a catchy, danceable swing melody into an experimental phase, playing with dissonant harmony, multiple tonal centres and irregular rhythm, and then back to the groove again. John Pope Quintet did this brilliantly as both solo performers, and as a band.
The solo work from Jamie Stockbridge on alto saxophone, Faye MacCalman on tenor sax and clarinet, Graham Hardy on trumpet, Johnny Hunter on drums, and of course John Pope on double bass really made this performance a special one. Yet as a band, with Pope leading and tying these individual ideas together, the live set made for a compelling evening’s entertainment, and left the audience with a satisfying sense of collaboration and positive energy.