Arbenz + Hart + Pursglove = Conversations – March 2024

Progress Theatre, Reading
Friday 22 March 2024

Jim Hart vibraphone, percussion | Florian Arbenz drums, percussion | Percy Pursglove trumpet/flugelhorn

Listening to Arbenz + Hart + Pursglove = Conversation, in the intimate surrounds of the Progress Theatre on 22 March, was a totally enthralling experience. I sat in awe as three of the most creative musicians on the European Contemporary jazz scene worked their magic across two forty-five-minute sets.

The music flowed in a cascade of invention, finding its own course in the interplay between the musicians and sweeping me along in its wake. As the group’s publicity proclaimed, ‘This is truly music of the moment’. Its sophistication placed it in a world apart from the origins of jazz in the street parades of early 20th Century New Orleans, but it brings that spirit alive to a new generation in the sheer joy of collective music making.

Individually, the musicians were at the top of their game. Florian Arbenz, a very welcome guest from Basel in Switzerland, is a restless drummer, able to draw a vast range of subtle rhythms and tonal colours from his drums and cymbals (or more accurately a kit borrowed for the evening from Jazz in Reading’s Jim Wade). Somewhere, tucked away from the gaze of the audience he had a tiny percussion devise to create intriguing bass notes. If there is such a thing as a ‘drum landscape’, Arbenz used it to tremendous effect to set the scene for the opening title, Evolution/ Winter and all that followed.

British born vibraphonist and percussionist, Jim Hart, is now a close neighbour to Arbenz on the Continent and like Arbenz, is a composer of great originality. Throughout the evening, he constantly switched deftly to-and-fro between his collection of percussion instruments and dazzling four-mallet forays on the vibes.

The ensemble was completed by the multi-instrumentalist and composer, Percy Pursglove, who Progress regulars will remember from a memorable appearance as bassist/trumpeter with Andy Sheppard a few years ago. Among his many roles as a freelance musician, Pursglove is a member of the famous NDR Big Band in Hamburg. On this occasion, he formed what MC Bob Draper described as the ‘brass section’, performing eloquently and with a beautiful purity of tone on trumpet and flugelhorn.

The momentum established in Evolution/Winter Still, continued in the good humour of Jammin’ at the Children’s Corner. Pursglove’s plaintive trumpet emerged from the ensemble on the Old Showman, in a style reminiscent of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain. Its emotional impact lifted the hairs on the back of my neck. Imperceptibly, the temperature cooled, the smooth lines of the music became more jagged and the first set concluded with Angular Momentum. Was it my imagination or did I catch a fleeting reference to ‘Night in Tunisia’ in Jim Hart’s vibes?

The Exchange, an apt title from the pen of Jim Hart, opened the second set in lively fashion as a torrent of ideas sped across the stage between the musicians. Pursglove’s own composition Fluxy Wuxy served as a prelude to a heart wrenchingly beautiful interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s classic ballad, Skylark – as fine an example of collective ensemble playing as you will ever come across.

The evening came full circle with the spotlight falling once more on Florian Arbenz. His drums set in motion a celebration of time spent in Cuba – not in academic study as he was supposed to be doing but absorbing the vivid colours and rhythms of Cuban culture from its streets. Rhumba Celebration simply oozed with life-affirming energy and brought a brilliant concert to a spectacular close. It will be a ‘conversation’ piece for years to come.

Arbenz + Hart + Pursglove = Conversation, were very welcome guests at Progress and we are delighted that they left Reading with a warm regard for the UK provincial jazz scene. Florian remarked to the effect that, while we might lack the financial support available to our continental neighbours, we more than make up for it with our energy, commitment and love of the music. Long may it continue!

As ever, thank you to the Progress Front of House team for their hospitality and to Rich Saunders for the excellent quality of sound and lighting.

Review posted here by kind permission of Trevor Bannister
Photo by Steve Foster @jazzshots (Instagram & FB)