MUSIC / Giving it some stick: Julian Joseph Quartet - Jazz Cafe, London

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The Independent Culture
The drummer Mark Mondesir (pronounced Mon-day-zi) looks about 14 years old, wears big Joe 90 glasses and plays with a perpetual grin on his cute-chipmunk face.

Unlikely as it seems, this cherub might also be the most swinging jazz drummer in the world, a title traditionally the reserve of hard-bitten men with stony grimaces and psychological problems. When Billy Cobham played the Jazz Cafe, London, last year, Mondesir spent each night watching his hero from the balcony; on Tuesday, there were other drummers watching him from the same place. And while Mondesir may not yet have a Cobham-sized kit or his own personal drum surgeon, he has managed to hit Billy where it hurts - with power and volume.

Throughout the performance, Mondesir's eyes remained locked to those of pianist Julian Joseph at the other end of the stage; at times the intensity of their mutual gaze made Wayne Batchelor on bass and Jean Toussaint on sax - both of then built like heavyweight boxers - seem almost to disappear.

As is proper in jazz of this sort - hard, boppish themes with lots of space for improvisation - the drums set the pace. Joseph's piano was partly a percussion instrument too, worrying away at rhythmic motifs. His left hand anchors the sound to a heavy structure while the right goes walkabout, tending to resolve each run with a blues or gospel-tinged trill.

The deceased Inner London Education Authority sent Joseph to Berklee in Boston to study jazz, but he knows his Bartok and Prokofiev too, and his playing ripples with complex internal rhythms and harmonies. His tunes are supple devices for the band to swing on, but they are far more than blowing vehicles; whenever the slightly off-centre refrains reappear, they provide a sharp reminder of how memorable a composer he can be.

At a push you could complain that the band lacks variety, that the relentless forward drive leaves little room for lyricism or delicacy, that Mondesir needs his idling speed adjusting downwards just a touch; certainly the ballads were less effective than the mid-tempo pieces. But while these shortcomings might worry in a concert hall, in a jazz club they become positive gains. To cap a superb performance, Joseph sang one number. He shouldn't give up the day job yet.

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