Jazz: More joy of sax

Live: MARK TURNER PIZZA EXPRESS LONDON

MARK TURNER is a cool and startling draught of fresh air in American jazz. Turner is a tenor saxophonist who recognises the acknowledged role models and yet sounds not quite like any of them, and his unassuming manner masks a probing and hard-won method. He makes you feel the physicality of the sax, but it's done with a tone that's light, almost sing-song, and a delivery that works a compelling linear path, not the tension-and- release climaxes of most improvisers.

For this London debut he had a local rhythm section, so we missed the pleasure of hearing him with the brilliant American team (including the pianist of the moment, Brad Mehldau) that backs him on his recent recording, In This World. They did nothing wrong, though, and the sinewy grace of his style raised everyone's game. Herbie Hancock's "Sorcerer" was an oblique starting point, and it was Turner's own "Tune #1" that really focused the ear.

He owes a surprising debt to Warne Marsh, with whose seamless playing Turner has a clear kinship, even though he allows an expressionist edge that Marsh wouldn't have admitted. A solo may start with lines laid out like a map, before the saxophonist digs in and gathers breath for the kind of byzantine structure that is Coltrane's legacy. Except that the fluidity and curious mottled sound he finds in the high register breaks open the severity of that manner, and introduces unexpected light.

This was best demonstrated in the solo cadenza he used to begin a noble treatment of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti". This was sax playing of spontaneous mastery, the kind of clear-headed intensity which years of work make possible, gloved by melodic substance that welcomes listeners in. A shy-looking beanpole of a man with long, spidery fingers, Turner hugs the horn into himself, as if reluctant to let it escape. No disrespect to Albert Sands (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Stephen Keogh (drums), who offered attentive and limber support, but this was all about the leader. Bereft of the grandstanding excitement that lesser imaginations settle for, Turner's music is fascinating proof of how the language of post-bop keeps finding new ways to go forward.

Richard Cook

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