The Convergence Quartet is a transatlantic affair involving four mature young composer/improvisors: New York-resident, Canadian Harris Eisenstadt on drums; American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn; and British pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Dominic Lash.
Recorded live at London’s Vortex Jazz Club on 13 November 2011, Slow and Steady (NoBusiness) is the quartet’s third album since 2007, and captures the group in thoughtful tension. Whereas their last, the studio-recorded Song/Dance (2009, Clean Feed) was an eclectic affair, which tipped the nod to both African and American jazz with judiciously selected covers, here the quartet draw their influences tighter together to forge a mature collective sound.
Heavyweight resumes reveal telling associations, including, selectively: Sam Rivers (Eisenstadt), Louis Moholo-Mohlo (Hawkins), Anthony Braxton (Ho Bynum), and Tonys Bevan and Conrad (Lash). Together in Convergence, the quartet meld those influences in original music that fuses intellectual cool and instinctual fire.
All four players have strong identities as composers, and all except Ho Bynum contribute equally here (Ho Bynum only splits credits with Lash on the portmanteau composition “Remember Raoul/Piano Part Two”). But where, previously, much of the pleasure in this group’s music came from ideological or methodological frisson, here there’s a more satisfying meld of collective identities.
Tempos are mostly slow to mid-tempo, underlining both the subtlety of the group’s collective restraint and their mutual trust: any bold intervention impacts vividly on the soundfield.
In April 2009, I reviewed an early Convergence concert, also at the Vortex. I described them then as “following in the footsteps of artists such as Dave Brubeck and Anthony Braxton: first-world third-stream composers with one eye on the deeper river of free jazz and African and American traditional music,” adding one small caveat: “their music is evidently still in evolution.” No doubt that’s still true, but as of 2011 the group is clearly operating on a higher level, transcending the talents of its individual members.
The Convergence Quartet is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary force (just as the album’s title suggests), but they are exemplars of modern jazz, and they are quietly refining the idiom. More important, they are making powerful and deeply affecting music in the process.