Sydney Morning Herald

Rajiv Jayaweera Jazz Lab, Melbourne

The Jazzlab, Sunday 22 May

Rajiv Jayaweera ★★★★

Originally billed as a quintet, Rajiv Jayaweera’s band became a quartet at short notice after one of the musicians pulled out due to illness a few hours before Sunday’s gig. COVID, of course, has made jazz musicians (already improvisers at heart) even more adept at mutation and adaptation.

In this case, Jayaweera had only a brief rehearsal with his specially assembled group, along with some quick discussions to reshape the music for a quartet setting. The rest came together on the bandstand, thanks to the clarity of Jayaweera’s writing and the palpable rapport among the players.

Jayaweera (an Australian drummer now based mainly in Europe) shares a deep bond with bassist Sam Anning, the pair having played together for years in New York. Their intuitive empathy allowed the nimble rhythms on Sunday night to dance back and forth between them, giving Jayaweera the freedom to add textural accents while Anning tended to the supple pulse.

Trumpeter Mat Jodrell brought the leader’s appealing melodies to life with precision and vitality, while Brett Williams (an American pianist who had never played with Jayaweera before this gig) slotted into the ensemble’s dynamics with remarkable ease.

Just over half the tunes in the program were drawn from the drummer’s latest album Pistils, inspired by his grandparents and his Sri Lankan heritage. Hirimbura was pinned to an irresistibly cruisy strut; The Elephant moved between precise, skipping lines and a more emphatic flow; and Pistils was delicate and atmospheric, filled with vibrato-laden trumpet, feathery brushwork and rippling piano.

A handful of newer compositions paid tribute to the drummer’s current home in Malaga, Spain, including the warmly inviting Sierra and the Latin-tinged Calle Quitapenas. Throughout, Jayaweera was a master of understatement, shaping the contours of each piece without resorting to showy gestures, and gently guiding this freshly formed group that somehow radiated the assurance of a seasoned ensemble.

Reviewed by Jessica Nicholas