Max Luthert Sextet

The Capstone Theatre, 17 Shaw Street, L6
1st May 2015

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Europa Rather Than Champions League

May Day may not have been the most propitious of times for Max Luthert to turn up at The Capstone. Those waiting for the doors to open had a chance to sit in the Japanese Garden in the slanting evening sunshine and watch a flock of seagulls targeting a plastic bag left beside a thespian troupe's deserted chair. Inside in the bar it was clear that there would not be a large audience to watch the immaculately waistcoated bassist lead his own flock of musicians on stage.

Lining up centrally behind a front five that comprised Matt Robinson (piano), Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Seb Pipe (alto sax), Duncan Eagles (tenor sax) and with Dave Hamblett on drums, he acknowledged the low turn out by quipping 'thank you for spreading yourself around'.

Showcasing tracks from the new album Orbital, (2014), the leader started slowly with some pedestrian strumming as he warmed his fingers up, before Robinson half kicked up a dust storm to occasional trills from Lockrane. When they came in the saxophones inevitably added life to the conservative strains around them and some tempo and oxygen to the music.

As the hour long continuous set progressed things did hot up a bit, but the minimalist 'big band' formation, as they waited for their turn to solo, was reminiscent of the disparate interaction of people waiting at a bus stop. Grand Designs and Pacific Before Tiger came and apologetically went; there was lovely colour and tone aplenty, but little animation to the sounds produced. This though is Luthert's understated territory, so it was up to the listener to make a judgement call; some hypnotic bass flute emphasised the point.

As the night went on things did speed up, and by the time Banrock Station was left behind the collective urgently showed what they can achieve en masse.

Coaxing his team up field the captain inspired a free-for-all that became more complex but which still allowed everyone to display their talents. This bravura outpouring semi-compensated for the lacklustre tempo of the conservative earlier tracks.

However despite some elegant bass improvisation, that was his call to arms, there was a reluctance to join in except for an infusion of piccolo in the likes of Edgewall and smaltzy circulatory piano themes on the title track, Orbital. When the saxophones were given some space the soundscape was at it most mellifluous and expansive, but the drums and piano had little scope to be themselves.

A short gig of two halves then; the performance, reserved and mainly understated, was always striving to meet the pre-concert hype. You can only give as good as you get. It was sad all round that there was not a bigger crowd to reflect on the night's entertainment.

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