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Ben Crosland Quintet - The Ray Davies Songbook Rating: 3-5 out of 5 This is music that is unmistakably jazz with Crosland bringing plenty of himself to the arrangements yet always retaining the sense and spirit of Davies' songs.

Ben Crosland Quintet

“The Ray Davies Songbook”

(Jazz Cat Records JCCD116)

In August 2015 I reviewed a performance by former Kinks leader Ray Davies and his Band at Brecon Jazz Festival. The choice of Davies for a jazz festival seemed a little incongruous at the time but the show at the Market Hall was a terrific event with a surprisingly youthful looking Davies in fine form as he and his colleagues performed many of the hits from the Kinks back catalogue to the delight of a capacity audience.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed that performance and it also served as a reminder, as if any were needed, as to just how many great songs Davies has written. Like those of the Beatles the songs of the Kinks have become like a modern folk music, a part of the British national consciousness.

Suddenly Davies’ appearance at a jazz festival seems to make even more sense with the release of this new album by the Yorkshire born bassist Ben Crosland and his quintet. A child of the 1960s Crosland grew up with the music of the Kinks before later gravitating towards blues and jazz and becoming a key figure on the jazz scene in the North of England.

Crosland has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of the group Threeway, a chamber jazz ensemble featuring Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards) and Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn). The trio’s delicate but tensile strengths are heard to good effect on the albums “Songs Of The Year” (2009) and “Looking Forward, Looking Back” (2014), both with the focus on original material and both released on Crosland’s own Jazz Cat record label. Meanwhile the Ben Crosland Brass Group featured an extended version of Threeway with the addition of Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugel plus Mark Nightingale and Barnaby Dickinson on trombones. This sextet line up released the album “An Open Place”, a collection of compositions inspired by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in 2012.

During the course of a lengthy career Crosland has also released a number of albums in more conventional jazz quartet / quintet formats, these featuring an impressive array of collaborators including saxophonists Alan Skidmore and Rod Mason. For me a personal favourite is 2004’s “Last Flight Out”, a quartet offering featuring Waterman, guitarist Stuart McCallum and drummer Dave Walsh.   

“The Ray Davies Songbook” sees Crosland and his colleagues performing twelve arrangements of classic Davies songs and it’s to the credit of the leader and his four long term musical associates that the project works so well. The album line up includes Lodder alongside guitarist John Etheridge, saxophonist Dave O’ Higgins and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, who all respond to Crosland’s arrangements with enthusiasm and aplomb. There are some interesting re-imaginings here allied to some excellent playing but the Crosland Quintet is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. Instead Crosland’s very obvious love of his source material shines through loud and clear but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within the context of his source material. The project was originally commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival and the resultant arrangements were first performed there as part of the 2015 Festival.

Given Davies’ reputation as a perceptive and witty lyricist it’s perhaps a little surprising to find that the recording has no vocals. Nevertheless the album stays true to the spirit of Davies’ words as Crosland explains; “Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”. Even in this instrumental context the listener can still hear Davies’ lyrics in their head, but this in no way denigrates from the quality of the arrangements or the playing.

Recorded in London the album cover features photographs of the iconic skyline that inspired “Waterloo Sunset”. Produced by Crosland and engineered by O’Higgins the album also sounds immaculate with the separation of the instruments excellent throughout. 

The album commences with the quintet’s take on the Kinks hit “All Day And All Of The Night”. In the spirit of the original it’s an attention grabbing opener with de Krom’s crisp drum grooves propelling the famous riff which is delivered in tandem by Etheridge and O’ Higgins. Collectively the quintet impress with the energy and good humour that they bring to the piece with Davies’ rousing riff eventually becoming the jumping off point for a barnstorming solo by Etheridge that simultaneously embraces his jazz, rock and blues sensibilities. Lodder subsequently stretches out on electric piano before the quintet coalesce once more on the high octane finale. I bet this got the audience going at Marsden.

Crosland says of “Waterloo Sunset”, arguably Davies’ best loved song; “‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a great composition that I was at pains to change as little as possible, simply interpreting it as a ballad and altering a few changes to allow the spirit of the tune to shine through and inspire exquisite solos from Dave and John”. Lodder introduces the piece on acoustic piano with Crosland stating the timeless melody on electric bass before the rest of the quintet enter the arrangement with de Krom on brushed drums. O’Higgins tenor solo probes fluently and intelligently while Etheridge’s crystalline guitar soars wistfully, perfectly capturing the essence of Davies’ song.

Lodder switches to Hammond for a spirited soul jazz / cop show theme styled interpretation of “You Really Got Me” which effectively re-captures the spirit of the 60s but in a very different way to the original. O’Higgins solos joyously on tenor followed by Etheridge on blues rock styled guitar as Lodder’s Hammond swirls and churns around him. There’s also an engaging drum solo from de Krom before the band return to play us out.

“See My Friend”, with its Indian inspired drones, was the first of Davies’ songs to tap into the kind of Eastern mysticism that so fascinated the Beatles. Some of this stuff hasn’t aged as well as the pop hits so Crosland has re-harmonised the piece and given it a 6/8 time signature. His re-imagining of the piece works really well and the arrangement sounds fresh and invigorating with sparkling solos from Lodder on acoustic piano and O’ Higgins on soprano sax while Etheridge contributes some lithe and slippery guitar lines towards the close. 

de Krom’s drums introduce an appropriately joyous shuffle through “Ev’rybody’s Gonna be Happy” with Etheridge’s agreeably distorted guitar trading solos with O’Higgins on soprano before Lodder takes over on suitably rollicking piano.

Crosland credits Lodder with coming up with the idea for the jazz / reggae style arrangement of “Sunny Afternoon”. The syncopated rhythms work well in conjunction with O’Higgins jazzy tenor and the whole piece has a delightfully relaxed feel. The leader takes his first real solo of the album on lightly grooving but effortlessly melodic electric bass.

The relaxed vibe continues with a playful “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” as O’Higgins and Etheridge cheerfully exchange ideas before the saxophonist decides to probe deeper on tenor. Later it’s the turn of de Krom to trade ideas with Lodder and Etheridge. “The song lent itself to a straight-ahead swing treatment, albeit with some harmonic revision” comments Crosland.

Lodder moves back to Hammond for a languid, spacey, slowed down interpretation of “Tired Of Waiting For You” featuring Etheridge’s tremolo guitar sound, O’Higgins gentle sax melodies and de Krom’s brushed drums. Central to the arrangement is Crosland’s liquidly melodic electric bass feature followed by Etheridge’s gently soaring guitar .

The quintet bring a similar sense of wistfulness to a gently swinging arrangement of “Dead End Street” with O’Higgins soprano the leading instrumental voice alongside Lodder’s keyboards.

“I Need You” was an early Kinks B-side but is still a song that Davies plays in his own sets. Crosland and his colleagues give it a no nonsense, heads down treatment incorporating elements of blues and funk. O’ Higgins blows some exuberant r’n'b tinged tenor with Etheridge following with some fluent blues style guitar. Lodder plays electric keys again and delivers a fine funk inflected Rhodes solo. Of course, the soloists benefit immensely from the admirably tight grooves laid down by Crosland and de Krom.

Of “Set Me Free” Crosland says; “ the song is so beautifully constructed that it works as a jazz composition without alteration – what I have done is interpret it as a gentle bossa”. This time round there’s a real poignancy about O’Higgins tenor playing, a quality that also attaches itself to the solos by Etheridge and Lodder, the latter now back on acoustic piano.

Finally “A Well Respected Man” is the second song to which Crosland has applied a straight-ahead swing arrangement with O’Higgins tenor leading the way. The band sound as if they’re having a great time as they fairly romp through the piece with Etheridge also contributing a mercurial solo on the guitar as the rhythm team again lays down a propulsive groove.

I’m not always overly keen on ‘tribute’ projects but I have to say that this is one of the best that I’ve heard. This is music that is unmistakably jazz with Crosland bringing plenty of himself to the arrangements yet always retaining the sense and spirit of Davies’ songs. The arrangements are universally imaginative and intelligent and always stay the right side of ‘muzak’ or ‘cheesy’ while the performances are superb throughout, both in terms of ensemble playing and individual solos. The quintet’s collective enthusiasm for the project is always readily apparent. It also has to be said that the success of this album is a tribute not only to Crosland and his band but also to the timeless quality of Davies’ song writing. 

The London launch of “The Ray Davies Songbook” will be at the 606 Jazz Club on Wednesday 13th July 2016. Please visit http://www.606club.co.uk for further details and to book.     

 

     
 

The Ray Davies Songbook

Ben Crosland Quintet

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Ray Davies Songbook

This is music that is unmistakably jazz with Crosland bringing plenty of himself to the arrangements yet always retaining the sense and spirit of Davies' songs.

Ben Crosland Quintet

“The Ray Davies Songbook”

(Jazz Cat Records JCCD116)

In August 2015 I reviewed a performance by former Kinks leader Ray Davies and his Band at Brecon Jazz Festival. The choice of Davies for a jazz festival seemed a little incongruous at the time but the show at the Market Hall was a terrific event with a surprisingly youthful looking Davies in fine form as he and his colleagues performed many of the hits from the Kinks back catalogue to the delight of a capacity audience.

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed that performance and it also served as a reminder, as if any were needed, as to just how many great songs Davies has written. Like those of the Beatles the songs of the Kinks have become like a modern folk music, a part of the British national consciousness.

Suddenly Davies’ appearance at a jazz festival seems to make even more sense with the release of this new album by the Yorkshire born bassist Ben Crosland and his quintet. A child of the 1960s Crosland grew up with the music of the Kinks before later gravitating towards blues and jazz and becoming a key figure on the jazz scene in the North of England.

Crosland has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of the group Threeway, a chamber jazz ensemble featuring Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards) and Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn). The trio’s delicate but tensile strengths are heard to good effect on the albums “Songs Of The Year” (2009) and “Looking Forward, Looking Back” (2014), both with the focus on original material and both released on Crosland’s own Jazz Cat record label. Meanwhile the Ben Crosland Brass Group featured an extended version of Threeway with the addition of Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugel plus Mark Nightingale and Barnaby Dickinson on trombones. This sextet line up released the album “An Open Place”, a collection of compositions inspired by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in 2012.

During the course of a lengthy career Crosland has also released a number of albums in more conventional jazz quartet / quintet formats, these featuring an impressive array of collaborators including saxophonists Alan Skidmore and Rod Mason. For me a personal favourite is 2004’s “Last Flight Out”, a quartet offering featuring Waterman, guitarist Stuart McCallum and drummer Dave Walsh.   

“The Ray Davies Songbook” sees Crosland and his colleagues performing twelve arrangements of classic Davies songs and it’s to the credit of the leader and his four long term musical associates that the project works so well. The album line up includes Lodder alongside guitarist John Etheridge, saxophonist Dave O’ Higgins and drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, who all respond to Crosland’s arrangements with enthusiasm and aplomb. There are some interesting re-imaginings here allied to some excellent playing but the Crosland Quintet is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. Instead Crosland’s very obvious love of his source material shines through loud and clear but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within the context of his source material. The project was originally commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival and the resultant arrangements were first performed there as part of the 2015 Festival.

Given Davies’ reputation as a perceptive and witty lyricist it’s perhaps a little surprising to find that the recording has no vocals. Nevertheless the album stays true to the spirit of Davies’ words as Crosland explains; “Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”. Even in this instrumental context the listener can still hear Davies’ lyrics in their head, but this in no way denigrates from the quality of the arrangements or the playing.

Recorded in London the album cover features photographs of the iconic skyline that inspired “Waterloo Sunset”. Produced by Crosland and engineered by O’Higgins the album also sounds immaculate with the separation of the instruments excellent throughout. 

The album commences with the quintet’s take on the Kinks hit “All Day And All Of The Night”. In the spirit of the original it’s an attention grabbing opener with de Krom’s crisp drum grooves propelling the famous riff which is delivered in tandem by Etheridge and O’ Higgins. Collectively the quintet impress with the energy and good humour that they bring to the piece with Davies’ rousing riff eventually becoming the jumping off point for a barnstorming solo by Etheridge that simultaneously embraces his jazz, rock and blues sensibilities. Lodder subsequently stretches out on electric piano before the quintet coalesce once more on the high octane finale. I bet this got the audience going at Marsden.

Crosland says of “Waterloo Sunset”, arguably Davies’ best loved song; “‘Waterloo Sunset’ is a great composition that I was at pains to change as little as possible, simply interpreting it as a ballad and altering a few changes to allow the spirit of the tune to shine through and inspire exquisite solos from Dave and John”. Lodder introduces the piece on acoustic piano with Crosland stating the timeless melody on electric bass before the rest of the quintet enter the arrangement with de Krom on brushed drums. O’Higgins tenor solo probes fluently and intelligently while Etheridge’s crystalline guitar soars wistfully, perfectly capturing the essence of Davies’ song.

Lodder switches to Hammond for a spirited soul jazz / cop show theme styled interpretation of “You Really Got Me” which effectively re-captures the spirit of the 60s but in a very different way to the original. O’Higgins solos joyously on tenor followed by Etheridge on blues rock styled guitar as Lodder’s Hammond swirls and churns around him. There’s also an engaging drum solo from de Krom before the band return to play us out.

“See My Friend”, with its Indian inspired drones, was the first of Davies’ songs to tap into the kind of Eastern mysticism that so fascinated the Beatles. Some of this stuff hasn’t aged as well as the pop hits so Crosland has re-harmonised the piece and given it a 6/8 time signature. His re-imagining of the piece works really well and the arrangement sounds fresh and invigorating with sparkling solos from Lodder on acoustic piano and O’ Higgins on soprano sax while Etheridge contributes some lithe and slippery guitar lines towards the close. 

de Krom’s drums introduce an appropriately joyous shuffle through “Ev’rybody’s Gonna be Happy” with Etheridge’s agreeably distorted guitar trading solos with O’Higgins on soprano before Lodder takes over on suitably rollicking piano.

Crosland credits Lodder with coming up with the idea for the jazz / reggae style arrangement of “Sunny Afternoon”. The syncopated rhythms work well in conjunction with O’Higgins jazzy tenor and the whole piece has a delightfully relaxed feel. The leader takes his first real solo of the album on lightly grooving but effortlessly melodic electric bass.

The relaxed vibe continues with a playful “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” as O’Higgins and Etheridge cheerfully exchange ideas before the saxophonist decides to probe deeper on tenor. Later it’s the turn of de Krom to trade ideas with Lodder and Etheridge. “The song lent itself to a straight-ahead swing treatment, albeit with some harmonic revision” comments Crosland.

Lodder moves back to Hammond for a languid, spacey, slowed down interpretation of “Tired Of Waiting For You” featuring Etheridge’s tremolo guitar sound, O’Higgins gentle sax melodies and de Krom’s brushed drums. Central to the arrangement is Crosland’s liquidly melodic electric bass feature followed by Etheridge’s gently soaring guitar .

The quintet bring a similar sense of wistfulness to a gently swinging arrangement of “Dead End Street” with O’Higgins soprano the leading instrumental voice alongside Lodder’s keyboards.

“I Need You” was an early Kinks B-side but is still a song that Davies plays in his own sets. Crosland and his colleagues give it a no nonsense, heads down treatment incorporating elements of blues and funk. O’ Higgins blows some exuberant r’n'b tinged tenor with Etheridge following with some fluent blues style guitar. Lodder plays electric keys again and delivers a fine funk inflected Rhodes solo. Of course, the soloists benefit immensely from the admirably tight grooves laid down by Crosland and de Krom.

Of “Set Me Free” Crosland says; “ the song is so beautifully constructed that it works as a jazz composition without alteration – what I have done is interpret it as a gentle bossa”. This time round there’s a real poignancy about O’Higgins tenor playing, a quality that also attaches itself to the solos by Etheridge and Lodder, the latter now back on acoustic piano.

Finally “A Well Respected Man” is the second song to which Crosland has applied a straight-ahead swing arrangement with O’Higgins tenor leading the way. The band sound as if they’re having a great time as they fairly romp through the piece with Etheridge also contributing a mercurial solo on the guitar as the rhythm team again lays down a propulsive groove.

I’m not always overly keen on ‘tribute’ projects but I have to say that this is one of the best that I’ve heard. This is music that is unmistakably jazz with Crosland bringing plenty of himself to the arrangements yet always retaining the sense and spirit of Davies’ songs. The arrangements are universally imaginative and intelligent and always stay the right side of ‘muzak’ or ‘cheesy’ while the performances are superb throughout, both in terms of ensemble playing and individual solos. The quintet’s collective enthusiasm for the project is always readily apparent. It also has to be said that the success of this album is a tribute not only to Crosland and his band but also to the timeless quality of Davies’ song writing. 

The London launch of “The Ray Davies Songbook” will be at the 606 Jazz Club on Wednesday 13th July 2016. Please visit http://www.606club.co.uk for further details and to book.     

 

     
 


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