Chris Minh Doky, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Infectious and elegant, shaking and stirring
Friday 17 January 2003
When the makers of the next Bond film decide how to shake up the famous Monty Norman theme they should ignore the electric jiggery-pokery they are so regularly tempted to use. The Danish wunderkind double bassist Chris Minh Doky opened the first night of his tour by showing how to refresh 007's vodka martini in the setting of a genuinely superstar New York jazz trio, featuring Makoto Ozone on piano and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums. After the main theme was stated slowly over a bed of feathery cymbal semi-quavers, Doky's arrangement from his new album Cinematique roared into a fast swing during the solos, a Latin explosion reminding us of the fate that awaits all Bond villains, before a pause – and then that utterly distinctive final chord was left trailing in the air.
It was an accomplished beginning to an evening that revealed what magic can be extracted from the most familiar of tunes. This was partly due to Doky's romantic treatment of ballads, "One Day I'll Fly Away" introduced by a long rubato bass intro, for instance, with normal tempo later ushered in by Ozone's ethereal sprinkling of notes at the higher extreme of the piano. It takes a romantic bordering on the sentimental to give "Nothing to Lose" from Blake Edwards's The Party its due, and Doky proved himself such as he took the melody of the number, the kind of perfect porcelain waif of a tune that Henry Mancini writes so well. Doky's compositional strength lies in this area too, as "Rain", a beautiful study in tristesse, showed.
But this was a trio of equals; quite a feat when "Tain" Watts is behind the kit. Resembling Yaphet Kotto's Dr Kananga in Live and Let Die, the same lascivious evil grin alternating with a ferocious scowl, Watts dominates the kit with the assertiveness of Art Blakey, and if Blakey has an heir, Watts is that man. As well as the command, the use of cross-rhythms and the firecracking rolls, Watts shares the sheer joyous abandon with which Blakey used to hit those drums. "You gonna swing," he seems to say, "whether you like it or not."
Because he is capable of such elegance and unobtrusive comping, it would be easy to underrate Ozone. But his sound is deceptively big beneath its spare exterior, which he rolled back to great effect in his "Lazy Uncle", a Monkish tune with stops. Ozone and Watts pushed the rhythm till it spilled over the bar lines, their shapes only showing themselves again after the waters had receded.
Ending with Jaco Pastorius's "Teen Town", in which Doky flexed his chops by taking Pastorius's lightning electric bass lines on its less flexible acoustic cousin, it was evident that this is a trio capable of handling literally anything. Their delight in playing together was infectious, and the smallish audience departed into the Soho night with a glow that no wintry landscape could extinguish.
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