Greg Cordez was not a name I was overly familiar with before seeing his quintet live at The Fringe Bar. I knew the names and the talents of his entire band, bar the man himself. Jim Blomfield is a stunning piano player and composer, Mark Whitlam is a one-man funk machine in high demand with countless dozens of groups, Nick Malcolm is one of the most rounded trumpet players on the contemporary scene right now, and Jake McMurchie is of course the master tenor saxophonist best known for co-leading the front line of the brilliant Get The Blessing. Greg Cordez though I have to admit I shamefully knew very little. Very little aside from near-unanimous praise from critics and gig attendees.
Cordez though is much more than just a brilliant bassist (which he is), and the gig highlighted his quite considerable skills as composer. His own 'Brown Bear' opened proceedings with subtlety being the key word, from the light rolling drum work, to the gently swooping piano figures and a very catchy bass line. On its own it was enough, and yet the dual front-line of Malcolm's trumpet and McMurchie's sax took to a brilliant high.
The first of two Todd Sickafoose tunes followed. Another new name, but Cordez was full of praise, and the tune 'Blood Orange' was a winner. But the show was at least half about showcasing Cordez as a writer, and his pieces were very good indeed. As well as featuring quite a few nice lines in humour.
'November' was the perfect title to the slow and winter-evoking beautiful composition that had a typically sparkling Blomfield piano solo. 'Camilla Rose' too occupied the same field of beauty, while the sub-atomic particle referencing 'Up Quark' was a suitably more upbeat - almost bouncy - affair.
The second set featured more great fresh-to-these-ears compositions. 'Ron Free', named after the famous drummer, came with a heart-warming anecdote describing how Cordez and Free had come to exchange letters and eventually meet in person, while the gorgeous '8 Minutes And 23 Seconds' (named after the time it takes the suns light to reach Earth - more evidence of Cordez being a fellow science geek?) was possibly the tune of the night.
Reid Anderson (of The Bad Plus) was the writer of the hard-driving 'Pound For Pound', and gave space aplenty for a stunning McMurchie solo, and one of Charles Mingus's lesser-known pieces 'Jump Monk' was the nights most lively performance that had the audience applauding every solo. It was though another Todd Sickafoose composition that was chosen to close the evening, and a superb choice it was too - 'Moonfruit' came ready tooled with a fantastic melody that the band played to perfection, and everyone grabbed a stellar limelight moment to shine.
A great gig led by a brilliant player and bandleader, it was an incredible showcase of Cordez's composing talents that clearly showed him as following in the footsteps of Charles Mingus, but also highlighted some other more lefter-field influences (including clearly Sickafoose who I will make a point of investigating very soon). If there was a criticism to make it would be that Cordez's tunes nearly all occupy the same approximate tempo setting, somewhere between slow and medium, and so perhaps relies on other people's songs to have more variety in the pace of the concert. It wouldn't be a huge criticism however, as his writing is uniformly excellent. Definitely one to watch.