Colin Towns's desire to create a band that carries jazz values into the current – and possibly the next – age has come to fruition in Blue Touch Paper. The keyboard player and prolific composer of film and TV themes is an unassuming physical presence onstage but his ambitious ideas and aim of producing a sense of occasion through sound were obvious the moment the lights dimmed and the band walked on to pre-recorded atmospherics.
A superb sound quality – not always easy to attain in the Queen's Hall – cast the music in its best light as the six-piece band brought Towns's creations to often subtle and always precise life. The main voices are Mark Lockheart's eloquent tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, with guitarist Chris Montague variously shadowing the melody, adding rhythmic colour and soaring off on fast, fiery extemporisations.
The themes and arrangements are uniformly attractive, owing more to European composers such as Debussy and Kurt Weill than jazz staples, although there were occasional suggestions of latter-day Weather Report and Frank Zappa in the more complex items.
One highlight factored the three witches' chanting from Macbeth in eerie surround sound alongside terse soprano and plunging keyboards as the expert drums-percussion team of Benny Greb and Stephan Maass created a perfect, exact groove. Bassist Edward Maclean's ballad feature and Greb and Maass's brilliant second-half conversation were further outstanding contributions but this was, overall, an expertly conceived and articulated series of compositions that hung together superbly as an evening of music full of engagement and appealing sonic surprises.