Many years ago in Auckland there was an upstairs bar where a jazz band played every Friday night. It was probably the only regular weekly jazz gig in town at the time; no doubt the band felt a bit lucky to get it. At any rate, they seemed to make a special effort to satisfy all tastes – demonstrating their skills in a wide range of jazz styles. And even if, at times, they struggled to make themselves heard above the talking, they certainly kept their regular audience happy with that range of styles.
I was reminded of those times as I listened to Stephen Galvin’s album Modal Behaviour. This album is like a dictionary of jazz – with tracks ranging from an almost BB-King-style blues through Bebop and Latin cha-cha, to the French Gypsy-jazz of Django Reinhardt. It’s a formidable range of genres, and the musicians delight in showing their competence right across the range. Each track is briefly introduced by Galvin, which lends the set the feel of a live performance in a quiet bar.
This album had me hooked on the first track, a homage to Django Reinhardt which faithfully reproduces the spirit of the original. Galvin mimics Reinhardt’s legendary guitar-picking, and even some of his actual phrases, on a fretless bass – a feat in itself.
Another outstanding track is Woody Would, in bebop style. There are some great solos on this track – and elsewhere on the album – particularly those of Ben Hunt on trumpet and of Andre Paris on sax. It seems a long time since I heard musicians this good live.
I’ve been searching, the Blues piece, is also very fine, one of the few tracks where vocals are a major element. If I have a criticism, it is only that the lyrics didn’t seem to get quite the same careful attention as the compositions and the performances. At times they can seem a little repetitive – but this is a small matter compared to the wealth of musical interest here. Once again, this track has some great improvisations, on trumpet, sax, and keyboard.
Galvin notes the ways the musicians on Modal behaviour were affected by the Covid pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and cancellations of live music. The track Lockup expresses this frustration, and to some degree the whole album is a product of the constraints of lockdown.
But if you find yourself stuck in lockdown at home on some Friday night in the future, unable to listen to a live performance, then open a beer and listen to this album – it’s a pretty good substitute.