The actual jazz scene, i.e. the musicians who really swing and continuously pack a punch, grabbing the audience’s attention from the first number and never letting go until the lights come on, can be a very different affair to what’s often written about and promoted in the broadsheets. Underneath the habitually cliquey critical radar there are musicians who have continued to develop their personal sound and style, whose aim is one of long-term aesthetics rather than short-term praise. These artists are to be admired and nurtured.
Benet McLean, a pianist of virtuoso skill and inventiveness, is one such artist. His technique is unrivalled within the continuously increasing ranks of British piano players, and combined with his R & B vocals and general showmanship his act is embracing and original in equal measure. At the 606 on Thursday evening I observed and listened to McLean’s Quartet in action, joined, for a wet Thursday evening, by an encouragingly large and attentive audience. With Jason Yarde on alto sax, Ben Hazleton on bass, and Saleem Raman on Drums, this regular unit has forged an innovative sound, a patchwork of jazz and jazz-inspired influences.
At one point of the evening Hazleton was given room to stretch and breath life into an introductory solo of gorgeous melancholy, his bass sighing and weeping until the rest of the band reunited for The Jackson’s Push Me Away. When done right, without any knowing irony, covers along these lines can really work. Another highlight was the extended, manipulated take on Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Bracketed either end of the changes was a tune entitled What You Wanna Hear, in which McLean vocally soloed the history of innovative jazz. Both Yarde and Raman were in the zone throughout the evening.
I recommend purchasing McLean’s latest album, In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee, to revel in some truly forward thinking British jazz. In his credit notes on the album sleeve Mclean thanks, amongst others, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Scriabin. It is typical of modern jazz musicians to openly state classical composers are influential to their own work, what is unusual is the way McLean utilizes such influences. Rather than allowing any classical leanings to water-down his style, he uses them sparingly and with relevance. Stride and angular voicing’s over chamber settings and outright classical harmony. Whilst McLean is staying true to himself and his art, this might be a reason for his criminal lack of exposure in the broadsheets.