On the Wellington Jazz Festival’s Saturday afternoon, CODE Quartet drew together an expressive and weightless jazz. Shaping fluid to form in a dynamic soundscape that filled the Michael Fowler Centre for fifty minutes.
Based in Montreal, the ‘chordless quartet’ features saxophonist Christine Jensen, bassist Adrean Vedady, drummer Jim Doxas, and Kiwi trumpeter Lex French. Without a piano or keyboard as a tonal anchor, the quartet combined strong motifs with an improvisational expansivity.
Both Jensen and French exhibited a virtuosic control of their instrument, powerfully leading the band through energetic rapids or out across tranquil depths. Occasionally the two intertwined, gracefully spinning a motif between each other, before returning to the flow. The rhythm section constantly shifted their exchange, stepping from upbeat swing to off-beat groove with delicate poise, and giving each soloist a foundation that was at once supportive and uninhibited.
Commissioned by the festival organizers, the group played a selection of pieces with a rewarding focus on recent compositions by New Zealanders. Many of the tunes had a central theme or narrative behind them. Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s work developed the ideas of Moorings and Transience, of setting out into the world and coming back home; while French’s own composition was inspired by the wonderful poem On the Death of her Body, by New Zealander James K. Baxter.
This translation from an abstract concept to musical form was channelled in a fine balance of emotion and structure. Neither bogged down nor lost in chaos, CODE Quartet’s expressive sensibility was well tuned. At one point Doxas began shaking his sheet music as a makeshift drum. You could feel the process occurring in the now, always opening outwards, never locking itself down.
Citing themselves as grown out a jazz genealogy, CODE Quartet proved themselves both pure and progressive in their performance, a superb addition to the festival’s line-up this year.