JAZZ / Classic grooves: Phil Johnson on Julian Joseph at the Wigmore Hall

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The Independent Culture
Wigmore Hall 1, Jazz 2 would be a fair assessment of the final score in this opening match of the Julian Joseph Jazz Series. A goalless draw looked likely for much of the first half, but an air of cautious experiment gradually took hold and after the break the players began to loosen up and blow. By the end, Captain Joseph was notching up yet another victory.

The particular atmosphere of the Wigmore was as much a player as either of the principals. Even the lighting made it seem at times as if the band were playing inside a bell-jar, with the music kept at an aesthetic distance, and the rarefied air made Eddie Daniels's clarinet sound even more restrained than the already polite instrument normally is. But Joseph's heavily percussive introduction to his 'Hard Cash' signalled that, Wigmore or not, boppish grooves would be to the fore.

It was on Mel Waldron's ballad 'Soul Eyes' that the show first took fire. Daniels, who established his reputation with the Thad Jones- Mel Lewis big band, and later as a classical player specialising in Mozart, has a sonorous tone and a quite stupendous technique, but one felt that he needed to risk blowing a few raspberries and, towards the end of the time, he did, hitting the acoustic square in the eyes with some loud bursts that succeeded in relaxing both players and audience alike. Otherwise Daniels played like an angel but, rather disconcertingly, came on mugging like a Californian version of Noel Edmonds. His tune 'Wolfie's Samba' - composed after realising, he said, that Mozart must have had a Brazilian girlfriend - would be lapped up only, one imagined, by those who think that Hoffnung's cartoons are rib-tickling stuff.

When Daniels opened the second half on tenor saxophone, it was a revelation; the hall could have been made for the deeper tone of the instrument, and his big, blowy sound on a specially improvised 'Blues for the Wigmore' (actually 'Going to Chicago' with a few changes) made the difference that turned the match around. When he moved back to clarinet for a limpid 'In a Sentimental Mood', the game was all but won. Joseph showed off an elastic right hand that provided the piano equivalent of high- wire somersaults, while the left hand grounded the acrobatics with deep, rhythmic strokes that interweaved skilfully with Alec Dankworth's steady bass. While the acoustic lost some of the bassist's heavy power, his higher notes resounded marvellously and he received the biggest cheers. The evening ended with an encore of an exultant Latin groove by Joe Henderson which showed that jazz was truly at home here, and, surely, for keeps.