Posted by: Ian Briggs on 8th April 2012 at 8:08 am
We are currently spending some time in London, and last night saw us venture to the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea to see Dave O’Higgins.
The last time we went to the 606 it was to see the alto saxophonist Matt Wates play, and as this gig coincided with my birthday, I was delighted that one of the best tenor players in the country was playing this time round.
The gig was sold out and the performance didn’t disappoint. O’Higgins played as part of a standard quartet consisting of piano and rhythm section, and the sets consisted of a mixture of some of his tried and tested work, and some of his more experimental pieces. These newer works were adaptations of jazz standards which had been rearranged and retitled so as to give them just a hint of their original form.
The format of the music was fairly typical of modern jazz: an introduction followed by extended solo breaks on all instruments. This is a format I usually find a bit tiring in long sets but the solos were interesting enough, and the styles varied enough to keep me interested.
O’Higgins’ playing in particular was extraordinary: such fluidity and effortlessness belies the difficulty and imaginative content of the music; his improvisation is a masterclass in structure, movement and interaction with the band. His technique involves playing with the chord structure in such a way as to rarely hit the ‘home’ notes, but pass through them often enough to make the listener comfortable with where his solo is heading. This also gives the sound a freedom and fluidity which is so hard to achieve.
On a technical front, O’Higgins uses a classic setup: a 1930s Conn tenor saxophone with remodelled keywork, and a fairly standard ebonite mouthpiece. This combination gave the sound such a rich, creamy tone, it is understandable why he sticks with a vintage instrument.
As with the overall feel of the performance, some of his solo improvisation had more of an experimental feel to it, not all of which was successful, but for the great majority of the time, it was a wonder to watch and listen to, full of both virtuosic playing and great tonal interpretation.
Top class musicians, great playing and interesting musical variety (including one slow number on soprano sax that was astounding) combined to make this an exceptional gig from one of the best sax players around – inspiration indeed for me to try to take my playing to different places…
…must practice harder!