With jet lag finally behind us, the band has settled in to life here in the borough of Islington, lending authenticity to the term “residency,” used to describe our time here. I have my official Oyster Card (the tube discount card), and when I walk into the coffee shop around the corner from our hotel, to sip joe and get some work done, the girl behind the counter, seeing me approach automatically grabs the medium sized cup and smiles. I’ve even ridden a city bicycle.
Our second big concert at The Barbican, Wynton’s Abyssinian Mass, went amazingly well. The chorus was beautiful, soulful and warm. The balance and intonation was near perfect, and the JLCO played it’s ass off. The back stage area after the concert was swarming with fans, friends, and musicians beaming and enthusiastic about having experienced the music. We were, too.
Early the following morning we were again on the stage at the Barbican, but this time playing a set of Duke for an audience of students participating in the UK Essentially Ellington festival. Needless to say we were tired and a bit spent. But we had the rest of the day off - a welcome and needed break in our intense schedule.
On Sunday we were back at it, rehearsing intense music once again. But this time we were tackling a program of Afro-Cuban music, under the knowledgable directorship of the JLCO’s clave specialist, bassist Carlos Henriquez. A smaller ensemble then our previous projects in the UK thus far, it was still quite a large group, with the addition of several latin-jazz musicians, including Pedrito Martinez, Omar Puente, and Alex Wilson. The nine-hour rehearsal took place in a rather small space, and by the end of the day my ears were ringing in 3/2.
The JLCO had trouble feeling some of the complex rhythms of this music, and playing together became a challenge. There were many times during the day when we would completely fall apart, realizing the big band was an eighth-note off from the others. It got to the point where I felt we may never get this together. We would sit and there and discuss the rhythms, trying to break it down intellectually, but basically there’s no way to really play this music correctly unless you feel it.
The next day, the afternoon of the concert, we had a long sound check, continuing to address some of the problems we were having the previous day. By the end of the sound check I wasn’t feeling any more confident that we weren’t going to have some form of train wreck during the concert.
During the break between sound check and concert I gave a private lesson to a young alto sax player I had met at Ronnie Scott’s a few nights before, leaving me just enough time to inhale some take-away sushi before hitting the stage.
Somehow the planets aligned, and everything came together beautifully during the performance. The sound on stage was clear, and interpreting the latin rhythms felt as natural as coming your hair. It was an exciting and satisfying concert, for the musicians and audience.
(To be continued...)