I must say that I’ve long admired the way that Kyle Eastwood has quietly gone about the business of developing simultaneous careers as a composer of film scores and a professional jazz musician. Although these areas of endeavour are far from mutually exclusive, they can still be tricky waters to navigate. It would be all too easy to pollute one at the expense of the other, rather than enriching both in a confluence of workable ideas.
As a writer, Eastwood has long had a facility for charming, seductive and often evocative melody that he’s managed to shape according to context. As a performer he’s used that gift to lure listeners into the warmer channels of jazz where individual expression is anchored up by a clear attachment to straight ahead structures. Indeed, the new recording from Eastwood entitled Time Pieces unambiguously tips a respectful hat in the direction of fondly regarded influencers of fifties and sixties jazz, not least Horace Silver.
The Kyle Eastwood Band, however, isn’t locked into a strictly monochrome era, for it brings its leader’s allegiances into much sharper relief as a very rounded and colourful modern quintet full of contemporary savvy and personable creativity. At its core, the group revolves around a piano, bass and drums format that is fleshed-tone rather than muscled out by stylish and dynamic horns. Naturally, Eastwood’s articulate acoustic and electric bass playing was very much to the fore last night in Dundee’s Gardyne Theatre, where he and his band found themselves opening the Dundee Jazz Festival.
Nevertheless, it was evident from the outset that man cannot groove by bass alone, and the five-piece quickly set out its stall as an agile and punchy outfit. They opened the show with Prosecco Smile, one of Eastwood’s most recent feelgood tunes, and one of several that come distilled through cinematic thinking almost as much as they percolate through historic jazz. A diesel-driven take on Bob Haggart’s Big Noise From Winnetka ploughed imperiously into the self-penned Bullet Train, and it was quickly clear that conjuring up visual imagery is as important to Eastwood as aural suggestion.
The slow, resonant introduction to Marrakech was a particular case in point creating an early highlight with one of his finest compositions to date. It is a wonderfully cinemascopic travelogue with Eastwood bowing on upright bass before switching seamlessly its electric cousin, and building to an intense climax in full surround sound.
Peace of Silver, an authentic sounding tribute to jazz master Horace Silver composed by trumpeter Quentin Collins underscored the confidence bordering on swagger of musicians used to owning the stage. It showcased a trio section that heard much talkative and erudite piano from Andrew McCormack in the kind of three-way jazz conversation that rewards musical courteousness.
In the second set, drummer Chris Higginbottom emerged as an effusive presence delivering light and shade in admirable style, but also displaying a distinctly Brubeckian temperament at times. It would be going to far to suggest that he hails from planet Morello, but I’m sure he’s visited it on many occasions. Brandon Allen also made his presence more keenly felt as he attempted to lovingly squeeze the life out of his sax like the perpetrator of a crime passionnel in that old movie by Louis Malle.
A large, and uncommonly satisfied audience, warmed to Eastwood’s affability as the band began to turn up the heat on Herbie Hancock’s Dolphin Dance, before burning up much of the remaining oxygen in the room on an encore of Silver’s Blowin’ The Blues Away. It had been a perfectly paced set and many will remember the vitality and energy of as bright a festival opener as any in recent years.
However, it will perhaps be the delicate electric bass and piano duet featuring McCormack and Eastwood that folks will tell their friends was alone worth the price of admission. Letters from Iwo Jima was written with the fallen in mind, and was offered up here with added poignancy, given Kyle Eastwood’s strong French connections. It was a reassuring performance that re-iterated the comforting, if not healing value of fine music played with genuine heart.
The Kyle Eastwood Band featured Kyle Eastwood (upright bass, electric bass and whistling!) Andrew McCormack (piano), Quentin Collins (trumpet and flugelhorn), Brandon Allen (tenor and soprano sax) and Chris Higginbottom (drums). New Album: Time Pieces.