A healthy musical culture is one that never leaves its historical achievements behind as though they counted for nothing. At a time when scores of ‘modern’ jazz musicians are still playing often bloodless imitations of what was done between 1945 and 1965, and a decreasing number are still happy in New Orleans ‘traditional’ mode, it’s good to see a relatively short-lived style, Acid Jazz, revived as though it had never gone away. In any case, it would take a bit to shift it.
Acid Jazz is two things: a genre and a record label, both born and raised in Britain. It was created in the early 1980s and late 1990s as a fusion of Funk, Soul and related music dependant on an accommodating groove; it’s not easy-listening music, which like fusion, has specific connotations in the pop-jazz arena, but it’s what ‘groove’ in this context means: once you’re in it there’s no way out, not that you’d be looking for an exit. Acid Jazz bands include French Power, Goldbug, and Galliano. The label resurrected Funk performers from a couple of decades before, with their emphasis on electrified instruments. Younger jazz fans will recognise bands such as Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies as flag-carriers for the style, but it influenced backing musicians everywhere, sometimes not for the better. It is clearly evident in album chart-toppers the Average White Band.
All this is a preamble to the appearance at Black Mountain Jazz club in Abergavenny of Tristan, a dynamic Netherlands quintet in whose music the best of Acid Jazz and more is embodied. The band is fronted by vocalist Evelyn Kallensee, who understands that this music maintains an almost invariable level of insouciant optimism – the groove that’s cut dead straight and taking everyone to the terminus. It cannot do anything but when powered so flat out by four virtuoso instrumentalists: keyboards player Coen Molenaar, guitarist Guy Nikkels, bassist Frans Vollenk, and drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen. Molenaar and Vollenk formed Isolde Records to launch the band, which has made several albums but is also big on the digital scene. It was clear that the Melville Theatre, BMJ’s intimate performing space, a room with tiered seating no less, had admitted a sonic elephant, which would have tasked a sound engineer to the point of surrender. But it was all good fun. No ear drums were shattered.
That intense propulsion explains the reason why Acid Jazz and its current manifestations appear almost nostalgic, especially on the Continent, where its British forebears are revered and memories go back almost thirty years to take in the music’s antecedents. But it thrives. Kallensee announced that a new album was due in April next year, called The Spice of Five. Each member of the band bar Nikkels, its latest recruit, has written music for the repertoire. It shows in the way all members conform to the prevailing mood, which is catchy, upbeat and an invitation to dance.
All the numbers played at Abergavenny have appeared on previous albums and were notable for the way Nikkels, in true Acid Jazz style, injected ultimate motor force to the rhythm section, itself quite happy to keep the beat going, when he was not taking off on solo flights of high velocity and cumulative excitement. Molenaar, too, gave his twin manuals a fair old pounding yet everywhere the relentless fire was never out of control, due mainly to the way Kallensee’s vocals ever had the measure of the intensity surrounding her. In a better sonic environment she could have been lifted above the maelstrom and heard to even better effect. Her soulful and sometimes winsome contribution is to sing as a member of the band without being overawed by the wattage available to three of the others, and to prove that the band is not wedded to unremitting intensity for its own sake. Cornelissen is his own power station. This is not a music given much to ponderous reflection, the song titles suggesting an invincible buoyancy – for examples, Love Leads The Way, Odds To Win, Step Into Bright Light, Feet Back On The Ground, and New Beginning.
Tristan is the sort of band that would have gone down well and been more suitably accommodated at the cavernous Market Hall in Abergavenny, where the BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall jazz festival holds its final day’s events and where the inclination to dance is not only enhanced by the site but positively encouraged by the organisers. This Melville gig was the sort at which jazz fans make allowances because they know that the music is genuine enough. There was a personal rapport with Kallensee as the quintet’s voice and point of contact in a band that just wants to get back on to its defining, if mostly unvarying, path.
Images: Pierre Heuveneers
Nigel Jarrett is a former newspaperman and a double prizewinner: the Rhys Davies Award for short fiction and, in 2016, the inaugural Templar Shorts award. His first story collection, Funderland, published by Parthian, was praised by the Guardian, the Independent, the Times and many others, and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. His début poetry collection, Miners At The Quarry Pool, also from Parthian, was described by Agenda poetry magazine as ‘a virtuoso performance’. Jarrett’s first novel, Slowly Burning (GG Books) was published in 2016, as was his second story collection, Who Killed Emil Kreisler? (Cultured Llama Publishing). Templar is about to publish his three-story pamphlet, A Gloucester Trilogy. Based in Monmouthshire, Jarrett writes for Jazz Journal, the Wales Arts Review, Arts Scene in Wales, Slightly Foxed, Acumen poetry magazine, and several others. His poetry, fiction, and essays appear widely. For many years he was a daily newspaper music critic, and now freelances in that capacity. When he can find time, he swims.
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