Thursday 28 November 2013

Chew on Benet Mclean

Benet Mclean - Piano
It was bigger and better, with more venues, more musicians and a packed house at every gig I attended this year at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Over the next week or so I'll be writing and exhibiting my work from the 8 gigs I found myself involved in, starting with Benet McLean's Quartet at the Clore Ballroom, Southbank on the 16th November 2013.

I don't often get the opportunity to bring the family along with me on these field trips, this being a blessing and a regret depending on my state of mind. The Festival had taken over the Southbank with a series of free concerts and a thousand people with the same idea as I were crammed onto every available space at the heart of London. Although there was an impressive spread of talent on display throughout the 4 hours session I was only here to see one man.

Duncan Eagles - Saxophone
I first drew Benet Mclean when I was artist-in-residence at The Bull's Head, Barnes in 2011/2012. His performance that night was exhilarating edge-of-your-seat stuff. He had forgotten his charts and there was a air of unpredictability and precipitous energy. Here and now though we had a calmer Mclean, confident and assured but still with that edge of burning charisma, the kind that metamorphoses me into the moth who cannot resist the flame.

Max Luther - Bass
This whole afternoon session was being recorded live for Kevin LeGendre's Jazz on 3 radio programme and Mclean's Quartet showed no signs of nerves even on their opening tune "Giant Steps" from his 2010 album "In the Land of Oo-bla-dee". Duncan Eagles was the star of the early exchanges, his initial slow burn on the opener just grew and grew which he carried forward to the set's second tune. With Mclean's beating piano and Mark Mondesir's heavy drums it was left to Eagles to add the subtlety, and he again proved more than capable with a light tip-toed spring with his soprano saxophone.

Mark Mondesir - Drums
Despite being hidden by the piano, Max Luthert was still integral to proceeding and I was able to get a quick sketch from the wings before being moved-on by security. It was understandably Benet Mclean who took the eye and the ear on this day. The third tune, Dizzy Gillespie's "I waited for you" was the perfect example of Mclean's sense of performance. With his expansive open-mouthed delivery he sucked you closer and like a circus lion we dared to place our heads within his mouth before the inevitable SNAP! We were saved. A sharp shot from drummer Mark Mondesir felled the roaming animal. Mclean's head drooped and his arm swayed gently in breeze from the Southbank's espresso machines.

In both voice and 10 fingered dexterity Benet Mclean was captivating. I turned to another scribbler to my left as our smooth headed pianist reached his finale with a solo piano homage to Art Tatum, the reviewer looked at me and mouthed "Range and Variety".

It was Mclean's voice which particularly resonated with me. It was meaty like a Sunday roast, each mouthful took me a minute to digest its timbre, leaving me to pile layer upon layer of its gravy tones into my greedy gullet.

I'm still chewing on it now.


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