Contemporary jazz quintet Wandering Monster performed a live set at The Globe in Newcastle on a wintery Sunday evening, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the month. Although many music lovers are apprehensive about livestreamed gigs, Wandering Monster’s musical talent, dynamic energy and invigorating improvisation allowed the virtual audience to truly feel as though they were in the room. This, combined with brilliant sound technicians and camera work, made Wandering Monster’s gig a pleasure to watch – and a stunning listen. Their music is warm, soulful and nuanced, yet also manages to push the boundaries of genre and challenge the listener through complex rhythmic, melodic and harmonic improvisation. Double bassist Sam Quintana composes the band’s pieces, and in performance we got to hear some of their newest, unheard works – the chance to hear a new, exclusive track makes the concept of livestream gigs even more compelling.
The gig opened with the band’s atmospheric take on Jaco Pastorius’ Okonkole y Trompa, immediately arresting the audience’s attention through the subtlety and beauty of their playing. Reshaping this track as their own was a clever introduction to the gig, and the almost tentative yet deep saxophone melody played by Ben Powling allowed the audience to really connect with the music, albeit virtually. Powling also illustrated his own musicianship through beautiful tone and control. It was brilliant getting the chance to watch such accomplished musicians interacting live, bouncing off one another’s ideas in performance, and attentively listening and responding to each other’s choices.
The band also performed both ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Division’ from their newest release during the livestream, featuring some amazingly tasteful yet thought-provoking solos from Calvin Travers on guitar, Aleks Podraza on piano, and Tom Higham on drums. Wandering Monster really managed to strike the balance between engaging the audience emotionally, and engaging them musically and intellectually throughout the gig. Their sound is so modern, yet also incorporates blues elements, bop language, and clearly nods to the jazz tradition as a whole. Every piece performed was complex rhythmically, and yet the grooves were accessible and made you want to nod along. The energy of the performance and the live element really came across – and that is not an easy feat.
The audience were also treated to two new compositions during the course of the gig – one named ‘Zenna’, and one so new that it was still untitled. Although ‘Zenna’ featured more experimental playing and improvisation, the warmth of the playing and the musical choices was not lost. Some freer jazz can feel disorientating and dark, yet Wandering Monster’s choices were exhilarating. Throughout the performance, their sound felt cohesive and connected, which bodes well for their new releases to come. The band ended the performance with a track from their eponymous debut album – ‘Samsara’ was a brilliant end to the gig. The band know exactly how to build tension and anticipation underneath solos, so that there is a satisfying and climactic release once they return to the original melody of the piece. The abrupt end to the last piece of the set left the audience with a sense of contentment, yet wanting more. Wandering Monster deserve genuine recognition and acclaim for their music, and the opportunity to see them play during such a difficult time for live performers was a rare pleasure.