Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew at the Vortex

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As Fletch’s Brew steamed through two sets at the Vortex, the appropriateness of the allusion in the name to Miles Davis’ electric period Bitches Brew became increasingly evident. And in the hands of this quartet, which could without overstating the case easily be called Band of Virtuosos, this style of music making has lost none of its shocking qualities from whence it derives its propensity to thrill in equal measure.

Not necessarily music for those who delight in the subtle charms of piano trios, it proved ideal fare for an occasionally clamorous Saturday night crowd that was quiet and attentive and then lent full voice to its rowdy approval of the performance. And as is this reviewer, it definitely proved possible to be a fan of (excellent) piano trio music, and yet be captivated by the performance.

Although this is a piano-less quartet, a sizeable portion of the set list comprised compositions by pianists, notably Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’, and ‘Midnight Voyage’ by Joey Calderazzo. The latter was a particular highlight, imbued with a tenderer feel than some of the other tunes. Of course, the piano is also a percussive instrument so the propulsive, sometimes funky, occasionally swinging drumming by leader Mark Fletcher filled-in some of the textures that might have been provided by a piano.

The quartet is more typically heard at the Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s and provided the audience with a serving of the musical sustenance on offer for those able and willing to brave the midnight hour and beyond at the Soho venue. Much of the music making had a tough and muscular but also good humoured quality, a statement perhaps of what is needed to survive as an artist in this ongoing climate of austerity. At other times the individual sounds coalesced into an eerie, spacey whole.

Just as John McLaughlin’s guitar sound left an indelible unmistakable individual impression on that phase of Miles’ music making, so guitarist Carl Orr brought a distinctive individual voice to the overall sound. Giving little ground away to McLaughlin in terms of speed, or attack, he inhabits a very different universe to modern guitar greats such as Frisell.

Laurence Cottle is surely one of Britain’s great electric bassists, one whom I feel doesn’t always garner the recognition his skills merit. There was much to enjoy in his contributions, especially his easy lyricism in the higher registers during Orr’s tune ‘Crossing the Ocean’.    

It was often up to trumpeter Freddie Gavita to provide the lead melody lines and especially the much-needed contrast and some quieter moments and to lend balance to the other lead instruments. Without singling out any particular solo, his contributions were integral to the success of the overall venture. At one stage I spotted a (young and female) patron playing air guitar along with one of the tunes – how often do you see that at a jazz gig? If jazz audiences are sometimes characterised by coolness and reserve, Fletch’s Brew adroitly disarmed any such reserve.

– Graham Boyd