Venue 505, September 2
When it’s like this it rearranges your very molecules for you. You walk in from a world defined by time, cost and practicalities, and suddenly all priorities are reset. Jay Rodriguez’s huge sound on a tenor saxophone immediately declares – insists! – that this being alive lark is actually about daring to feel our humanity and responding accordingly; about emotions too big for words.
Then he goes and develops a solo that is monumental in its scope, and his collaborators – collaborators just for this one night – go with him, providing not just foundations but musical exhortations that lift him higher. Cameron Undy’s bass is driving like a snow-plough, Tim Firth’s drums are snapping and whipping and Stephen Barry’s piano is slicing up the harmonies.
Born in Columbia and raised in New York, Rodriguez was making his Sydney debut, and its energy won’t be quickly forgotten. Often his tenor playing carried a testifying urgency that implied there was little time to say all that needed to be said, while the sheer scale of the sound suggested a brimming heart underpinning it all. On soprano he had a grainier sound, while his flute playing exploded with elation and animation, including on Prince Lasha’s Congo Call.
The repertoire ranged across his own compositions (including the elegiac As the Rain Subsides and the sizzling Your Sound) to a potent reading of Keith Jarrett’s soulful The Rich (and the Poor) and even to Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale (which was possibly surplus to requirements).
As engaging as the natural ebullience of his playing was, Rodriguez was overly inclined to whip up artificial squalls of excitement from the audience when his colleagues were at work. They needed no such fabricated support. All three ensured the interest never flagged when Rodriguez stepped away from the microphone, with Barry’s gripping solos sometimes having lines shooting or twisting at unexpected angles to the pulse and harmonies, and the rhythm section rocketing across the groove of Your Sound. Only As the Rain Subsides wobbled through unfamiliarity.