Banned in London
It could turn out that the best live jazz album released in the U.S. this year will be one recorded at a British pizza joint in 2011. That was when pianist Aruán Ortiz and bassist Michael Janisch brought their co-led quintet—an international ensemble featuring established star Greg Osby on alto saxophone, Barcelona’s Raynald Colom on trumpet and versatile veteran Rudy Royston (Bill Frisell, JD Allen, et al.) on drums—to the Pizza Express Jazz Club for the London Jazz Festival. The quintet was wrapping up a two-week European tour, and their extended takes on the five compositions they served up in Soho were tight, fiery and creative.
The Wisconsin-raised, London-based Janisch calls things to order with a soulful two-minute bass intro to his own “Precisely Now,” punctuated by the occasional clinking of diners’ cutlery. Ortiz and Royston briefly set up the unison horn melody, which Colom and Osby follow with blistering solos. Osby, whose live album Banned in New York possibly inspired this one’s title, provides a masterly intro of the same length to Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” then returns after Colom’s quick read of the melody with a wide-ranging solo. Janisch’s bass quiets to a steady heartbeat as Ortiz begins his solo soft and slow, the piano then building in abstraction and intensity until Ortiz exits, as had Osby, with a snippet of Waller’s theme.
Ortiz introduces the fourth and most ballad-like song of the set, Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now,” with Osby joining in for some exquisite duo action before the rest of the band steps in. The Cuban expatriate also contributes the set’s other two tunes, “Orbiting” (the title track of his fine 2012 quartet album) and “The Maestro.” Janisch and Royston provide exemplary support throughout. Let’s hope these busy, far-flung musicians have occasion to regroup and do it again soon.