New Generation Jazz: Brothers Testament
The Verdict Brighton
Friday 30th August, 2019
Fresh from their recent appearance at Brainchild Festival plus high profile gigs at top London venues, The Vortex, Ronnie Scott’s and The Jazz Cafe, the high energy, groove based Brothers Testament brought their unique take on the “Nu Jazz” phenomenon to the Verdict stage and produced an outstanding and compelling performance on the last Friday of August. When a bandleader enters the stage with a ten foot replica of a multi-coloured caterpillar draped around his shoulders and then proceeds to play the opening bars of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme on the grand piano, you have to take him and indeed his band very seriously. This was the case with the enormously talented and charismatic twenty two year old Munashe Caleb Manyumbu who led this fine quartet, who were like no other in this season’s New Generation Jazz programme, through two hour long stunning sets in front of yet another packed and enthusiastic Verdict crowd. This is a band that although having released their debut recording Ascent in 2018 and recently a single Deborah 11, have somewhat flown under the radar of many contemporary jazz fans. With a line up of piano doubling keyboards and vocals, electric bass, electric guitar and drums plus all the players being, or at least looking, extremely young you could be forgiven for thinking that you were about to hear some version of jazz fusion, probably with rock overtones or similar. You would have been seriously mistaken. This was a performance heavily steeped in the pure jazz tradition but brought right up to date by four musicians of almost virtuoso level, showing great empathy with each other through two sets of nearly all original music created and produced by themselves. The numbers were mostly lengthy, they had to be, there was so much depth to the music and creativity on show that there was no other way. From the minimalist solo piano opening of the Coltrane classic of 1964, the mood in all tempos was intense. During this iconic piece, despite the steadily increasing volume there was also a calming ambiance highlighted by the vibrato-less guitar licks of Mark Mollison and the imaginative drumming of ex-Maisha stick man Jack Robson. From here on in it was all originals, mostly extended versions of compositions from last years recording. Moonwalker, the opening track featured a Picasso-like aural palette of sound with an outstanding contribution from the leader’s piano, over rolling thunder from the drums and complex bass guitar work, by Trinity Laban Conservatoire attendee Hugo Piper, very much in the style of the great Stanley Clarke. I Think About You Sometimes is an outstanding composition by the group’s leader, it opened with a deliberately distorted vocal and then developed into the most free-flowing sonic excursion with ever-changing tempos highlighted by two superb solo interludes each from both piano and bass guitar during its twenty six minute duration which brought this stunning opening set to a close.
It is always best to expect the unexpected in jazz and so it proved to be when, after a very brief interval, the band returned to the stage. Following a short ethereal exchange between piano and drums the leader took up the mic’ and laid upon the stunned audience his very own physiological take on his experience as a young musician, close relationships, family disharmony and even his own plan of getting through life itself. It was intriguing stuff, full of interest and good sense just like the music. We were soon into one of two stunning compositions that were to fill most of the second set. The first, Nights Of Contentment had a very gentle soundscape with guitar and piano at the top of the mix over rolling drum passages and the bass guitar picking up the central theme at various points. By way of comparison it was somewhere between Wayne Shorter’s composition Sanctuary and Herbie Hancock’s Vein Melter from Headhunters. Following a further brief unnamed improvisation we were introduced to a new piece bound for a forthcoming recording to be issued early next year. Named The One For Me this commenced with another electronically-enhanced vocal, quite in keeping with the general ambiance of the music but with little threat to the legend of Frank Sinatra. The playing on this one was strident, up-beat and positive and included a mesmerising bass guitar solo along with fine interplay and exchange of ideas between all members. All good things must come to an end and so this did with two rapturous ovations followed by the the obligatory brief encore sending a very satisfied Brighton crowd into the night, realising among many other things, that you don’t always need a trumpet or saxophone to produce truly great jazz.
Munashe Caleb Manyumbu, keyboards and vocals; Mark Mollison, guitar; Hugo Piper, bass; Jack Robson, drums.
Photography by Anya Arnold.