Cambridge Modern Jazz’s latest offering this season confidently blends classic jazz with the avant-garde, finds Miriam Balanescu
Among the stained glass of St Andrews Street Baptist Church, a number of rising jazz stars have been performing as part of the summer season at Cambridge Modern Jazz.
Matt Ridley’s Quintet, founded by the bassist in 2019, was the latest to take to this surprising venue – the sun streaming through the windows while the acoustics gushed and glittered.
The group has graced the stage at distinguished London venues including Ronnie Scott’s, the Purcell Room and Cadogan Hall but had yet to play in Cambridge. Their regional debut was slow to start, but gradually got into the swing – executing a well-fused, stunningly harmonic sound.
Led by bassist Matt Ridley, the group’s strength was in their unity, though they also had a number of standout solos from each group member, particularly Tom Hewson on piano and Alex Hitchcock on saxophone. Hewson managed improvs across the scales, from fluttering themes to impressively chaotic flurries of notes. Hitchcock’s effortless saxophone solos drifted between dreamy interludes and Ridley flaunted the bass’s full range, though his stretches to the highest notes sometimes slipped onto the showy side.
The quintet’s repertoire is by no means straight jazz. The group showcases a trick bag of techniques and styles, from ethereal touches to Americana nods and even hints of filmic soundtracks. Tracks like “Thalo Blue” are anchored by an urgent bassline and move seamlessly between thick instrumentals to stripped back melodies. A hotpot of influences meet, with traditional jazz elements shining through. Their attempts to push the genre forward with experimental effects (especially on guitar) don’t always work but when they do it’s delightful.
The Matt Ridley Quintet are certainly on an upwards trajectory – and the remainder of Cambridge Modern Jazz’s performers this season are sure to be the same.
Find tickets to future shows at cambridgemodernjazz.org.