When you go to watch jazz, there’s always a risk that you’re going to be in for a night where those on stage will be having a better time than you are. Jazz can be complex, technical and incredibly introspective. Unless you’re a jazz aficionado armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of important jazz reference points, this can sometimes put a barrier between you and the good night out you’d hoped for.
Yes, a performer can be spectacularly accomplished and be deft at performing syncopated aural somersaults, but while it’s easy in such cases to tip your hat and say, “That’s impressive”, that doesn’t always equate to an enjoyable night out.
The four talented individuals who when combined become the Dominick Farinacci Quartet -- September’s resident jazz combo at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s elegantly cosy Doha outpost within the St Regis Hotel -- clearly possess the ability to impress and challenge each other, but, thankfully, they lack the arrogance of some others with their talent and are more than happy to share their joy with each of their lucky audiences.
If high-end jazz needs ambassadors, then these are the guys to take on that task. Their Doha set-list, which has varied throughout their month in Qatar, has included more than a fair share of crowd pleasers and standards – think Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World – but has also featured its fair share of surprises – think Daft Punk’s 2013 hit Get Lucky or Oasis’s Wonderwall given a cool jazz reboot. Whatever they turn their hand to they do with panache – always playing in a cohesive way that allows their instruments to complement each other perfectly. Crucially, they appear to never feel the need to play against each other, in order to act the peacock and show off their individual virtuosity.
Front man and trumpter Farinacci makes it all look so easy, and is an amusingly convivial host. His laconic ribbing of bandmates and audience alike is reminiscent of the late trumpeter and London club owner Ronnie Scott. The banter is great, but on numbers such as the aforementioned What A Wonderful World he shows that it’s when his words are replaced by the sweet and profoundly delicate phrasing of his instrument that he really shines.
Drummer John Lumpkin holds his sticks like a jazzman should, with grace and understated flair. His top button stays done up, his posture is as precise as a debutant leaving a high-class Parisian finishing school, but, when he needs to, he can make his drumkit sing.
Helping Lumpkin to provide the backbone of the quartet is Billy Thorton. Thorton is an ever-smiling presence behind the double bass, which he plucks or bows beautifully, occasionally searching out the unexpectedly accented note that adds that extra something to a chord or a music phrase that is just enough to get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. It’s an unexpected treat when he exercises his vocal chords, especially when he launches enthusiastically in Johnny Cash’s Fulsome Prison Blues while enthusiastically slapping away a hypnotically syncopated rhythm on his bass.
Finally, there’s Christian Tamburr – a man with a split onstage personality: one which alternates between understated, velvet-smooth piano playing and his crowd-pleasingly energetic turn behind the vibraphone. His skill with the latter strips away any hint of cheesiness and demonstrates that, when put in the hands of a master, ‘the vibes’ are an instrument to be reckoned with.
Their arrangements are sublime and perfectly executed, with their stylishly laidback instrumental renditions of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas and Ed Sheeran’s The A Team worthy of special mention.
Word on the street is that they plan to come back to Doha sometime soon. That time can’t come soon enough.