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Colin Steele Quartet - Diving For Pearls Rating: 4 out of 5 Steele has retained a highly individual and readily identifiable instrumental sound and he immediately claims these melodies as his own.

Colin Steele Quartet

“Diving For Pearls”

(Marina Records MA 82)

2017 is proving to be a highly productive year for Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele. Absent from the public arena for eight years following embouchure difficulties Steele returned in triumph in March with the release of “Even in the Darkest Places” (Gadgemo Records), an excellent collection of original material featuring a quintet including Irish saxophonist Michael Buckley and the Scottish musicians Dave Milligan (piano), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Stu Ritchie (drums).

“Even In The Darkest Places” followed a series of acclaimed albums including “Twilight Dreams” (2001) and “The Journey Home” (2003), both released on drummer Tom Bancroft’s Caber label.

“Through The Waves” (2005) saw Steele moving to the German ACT imprint and although his tenure with the label was brief it did help to bring his music to the attention of an international jazz audience.

Although firmly rooted in jazz Steele’s music has always reflected the influence of the folk tradition of his native Scotland.  In 2009 he launched his own Gadgemo record label with the release of “Stramash”, an album that brought these two strands even closer together. Recorded with an expanded line up the album included contributions from folk musicians such as fiddler Aidan O’Rourke (of Lau fame) and piper Rory Campbell.

Steele’s embouchure problems and his subsequent recovery are documented in my review of “Even in the Darkest Places”, an album that saw Steele taking a step back from the folk world and concentrating more fully on jazz, yet without sacrificing anything of his trademark lyricism or gift for melody. The review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/colin-steele-quintet-even-in-the-darkest-places/

“Diving For Pearls” reveals another side of Colin Steele’s musical persona. In the early years of the 21st century he was a prolific studio musician on the Scottish pop and rock scene. One band with whom he worked regularly were The Pearlfishers, the Glasgow based pop/rock band fronted by singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist David Scott.

Active since 1991 The Pearlfishers have amassed an impressive back catalogue, most of which appears on the Hamburg based Marina record label. A band with something of a cult following they have been described as “one of Scotland’s best kept musical secrets”. I have to admit to having never heard of them until this album found its way into my letterbox.

The idea for “Diving For Pearls” seems to have come from Stefan Kassel and Frank Lahnemann of the Marina label. Subtitled “Jazz Interpretations of the Pearlfishers Songbook” the album features ten original compositions by David Scott arranged by pianist Dave Milligan, who has appeared on every Colin Steele solo release to date. The quartet line up this time round is completed by Calum Gourlay on double bass and Alyn Cosker at the drums.

Kassel and Lahnemann consider the album to be following in a great jazz tradition where an entire recording is dedicated to the music of a single composer. They cite Miles Davis’ “Porgy & Bess” (1958) and Chet Baker’s “Plays Lerner & Loewe” (1959) as honourable predecessors of, and inspirations for, this record.

Speaking about the new recording Steele himself has said;
“I’d played on many sessions with The Pearlfishers before and have a similar taste in music to David Scott with our shared love of Burt Bacharach, The Beatles and the Beach Boys. I was impressed by the depth of the beautiful melodies and could immediately hear my own voice playing these melodies – specifically using the ‘Miles Davis sound’ of the Harmon mute”.

The first thing that strikes the listener is that “Diving For Pearls” straight-away sounds like a Colin Steele album. His melodic gift and trademark lyricism are apparent from the outset, even though these are not his tunes. Despite his difficulties Steele has retained a highly individual and readily identifiable instrumental sound and he immediately claims these melodies as his own, a process greatly encouraged by Milligan’s masterful arrangements.

The album title seems to allude to the lyrics of the song “Shipbuilding” (by Clive Langer and Elvis Costello), which seems apt given that Steele’s trumpet playing shares something of the fragility, vulnerability and sheer beauty of Robert Wyatt’s definitive vocal performance of that song.

“Diving For Pearls” commences with “The Bluebells”, a song from The Pearlfishers album “Up With The Larks”. Steele immediately establishes his signature sound for this album by deploying the Harmon mute for his initial theme statement and opening solo.  As “Even in the Darkest Places” so admirably and memorably demonstrated Steele has put his problems well behind him and is again playing with the same grace and fluency that characterised his earlier albums. “The Bluebells” has a bitter-sweet feel about it, the melancholy ring of Steele’s muted trumpet contrasting well with the exuberance of Milligan’s playing as Gourlay and Cosker provide skilful and empathic support with Cosker drumming up something of a storm as the piece gathers considerable momentum in its closing stages.

“We’ll Get By” epitomises Scott and Steele’s shared love of melody and adds a folkish, decidedly Celtic lilt to the proceedings. Still playing with the mute Steele is at his most lyrical, a quality shared by Milligan. Gourlay and Cosker again provide wonderfully sympathetic support.

A brief trumpet and piano duet introduces “Everything Works Out”, a song that is something of a favourite among the Pearlfishers fan-base. Steele plays with great sensitivity, sounding almost fragile at times, but still playing with great assurance and fluidity. Gourlay also features as a soloist with a short passage of melodic double bass and Milligan delivers a pithy but lyrical solo. But ultimately the piece is all about Steele’s bruised fluency.

“The Vampires Of Camelon” adopts a more forthright approach with Milligan delivering a more expansive solo and Gourlay enjoying another cameo. Steele’s own playing catches the mood with his most strident solo to date, although that’s still relative in the context of the album overall.

“Ice Race”, from the Pearlfishers’ seasonal album “A Sunflower At Christmas” keeps the energy levels high with Cosker’s powerful drumming driving the piece. The drummer is known as something of a powerhouse and he clearly relishes the opportunity to flex his muscles here on this intensely rhythmic piece. But overall this album demonstrates what a fine all round musician Cosker has become. Others to shine on this track are Milligan with a tumbling piano solo and Gourlay with a brief solo cameo and some meaty, propulsive bass playing overall. Meanwhile the leader moves up yet another gear with his most unfettered playing of the set. 

“You’ll Never Steal My Spirit” finds Steele extemporising on trumpet above Milligan’s gently insistent piano arpeggios. The leader’s tone is reminiscent of that of Miles Davis on the classic “Sketches of Spain” album. Elsewhere Gourlay’s melodic, but deeply resonant bass, assumes the lead on a couple of occasions and Milligan also takes the opportunity to stretch out.

Gourlay also features extensively on “Gone In The Winter” which opens with a passage of unaccompanied double bass before progressing into a brief dialogue with Steele’s trumpet. There’s a fragile beauty about this performance which includes two further melodic bass solos alongside Steele’s trumpet lyricism and Milligan’s limpid piano. The piece ends with Gourlay’s bass accompanied by the gentle shimmer of Cosker’s cymbals.

It’s also Cosker’s filigree cymbal work that ushers in “Snow On The Pines”, a piece possessed of chilly beauty that is reminiscent of an ECM recording, something encouraged by the subtle use of space, a characteristic that defines the album as a whole. However it’s far from a bloodless performance as the music gathers momentum with Gourlay’s bass occasionally threatening to take the melodic lead. Meanwhile Cosker plays with great assurance throughout, skilfully responding to the playing of Steele and Milligan plus the shifting dynamics of the composition.

Milligan introduces “The Umbrellas Of Shibuya”, his piano subsequently joined in dialogue by Cosker’s drums and cymbals. Gourlay briefly assumes the lead before handing over to Steele. Milligan’s playing on the intro has been compared to that of Riyuichi Sakomoto but his later solo is more expansive and more obviously ‘jazz’. It’s a piece that emphasises the chemistry between the members of the rhythm section who interact superbly throughout the album.

The album concludes with a brief coda in the shape of “Swan Dreams”, a tune sourced from the Pearlfishers’ “Sky Meadows” album.

Following his triumphant return earlier in the year Steele has delivered another gem, albeit a delightfully understated one. Such is the beauty and lyricism of this album that it’s hard to believe that it was recorded in the course of a single day (at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland, Scotland). Praise is due to producer Steele and the engineering team of Steve Hamilton in Scotland and Bo Kondren at Calyx Studios in Berlin where the album was mastered. The recorded sound is fresh and pristine throughout yet retains a vital warmth and intimacy.

However the lion’s share of the credit should go to the musicians themselves who all perform superbly, both individually and collectively, within the environment of a very well balanced quartet. Steele’s muted trumpet is inevitably at the heart of the sound but the faithful Milligan makes an excellent foil and the pianist should also be congratulated on his superb arrangements. Gourlay is given an admirable amount of room in which to express himself and delivers one of his best recorded performances to date. Similarly this is probably Cosker’s most mature work to date, an exquisite blend of sensitivity and occasional nascent power.

Steele and his colleagues very much make The Pearlfisher’s repertoire their own but such is the beauty and quality of Scott’s melodies that one also feels inclined to check out his own group’s recordings.

Diving For Pearls

Colin Steele Quartet

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Diving For Pearls

Steele has retained a highly individual and readily identifiable instrumental sound and he immediately claims these melodies as his own.

Colin Steele Quartet

“Diving For Pearls”

(Marina Records MA 82)

2017 is proving to be a highly productive year for Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele. Absent from the public arena for eight years following embouchure difficulties Steele returned in triumph in March with the release of “Even in the Darkest Places” (Gadgemo Records), an excellent collection of original material featuring a quintet including Irish saxophonist Michael Buckley and the Scottish musicians Dave Milligan (piano), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Stu Ritchie (drums).

“Even In The Darkest Places” followed a series of acclaimed albums including “Twilight Dreams” (2001) and “The Journey Home” (2003), both released on drummer Tom Bancroft’s Caber label.

“Through The Waves” (2005) saw Steele moving to the German ACT imprint and although his tenure with the label was brief it did help to bring his music to the attention of an international jazz audience.

Although firmly rooted in jazz Steele’s music has always reflected the influence of the folk tradition of his native Scotland.  In 2009 he launched his own Gadgemo record label with the release of “Stramash”, an album that brought these two strands even closer together. Recorded with an expanded line up the album included contributions from folk musicians such as fiddler Aidan O’Rourke (of Lau fame) and piper Rory Campbell.

Steele’s embouchure problems and his subsequent recovery are documented in my review of “Even in the Darkest Places”, an album that saw Steele taking a step back from the folk world and concentrating more fully on jazz, yet without sacrificing anything of his trademark lyricism or gift for melody. The review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/colin-steele-quintet-even-in-the-darkest-places/

“Diving For Pearls” reveals another side of Colin Steele’s musical persona. In the early years of the 21st century he was a prolific studio musician on the Scottish pop and rock scene. One band with whom he worked regularly were The Pearlfishers, the Glasgow based pop/rock band fronted by singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist David Scott.

Active since 1991 The Pearlfishers have amassed an impressive back catalogue, most of which appears on the Hamburg based Marina record label. A band with something of a cult following they have been described as “one of Scotland’s best kept musical secrets”. I have to admit to having never heard of them until this album found its way into my letterbox.

The idea for “Diving For Pearls” seems to have come from Stefan Kassel and Frank Lahnemann of the Marina label. Subtitled “Jazz Interpretations of the Pearlfishers Songbook” the album features ten original compositions by David Scott arranged by pianist Dave Milligan, who has appeared on every Colin Steele solo release to date. The quartet line up this time round is completed by Calum Gourlay on double bass and Alyn Cosker at the drums.

Kassel and Lahnemann consider the album to be following in a great jazz tradition where an entire recording is dedicated to the music of a single composer. They cite Miles Davis’ “Porgy & Bess” (1958) and Chet Baker’s “Plays Lerner & Loewe” (1959) as honourable predecessors of, and inspirations for, this record.

Speaking about the new recording Steele himself has said;
“I’d played on many sessions with The Pearlfishers before and have a similar taste in music to David Scott with our shared love of Burt Bacharach, The Beatles and the Beach Boys. I was impressed by the depth of the beautiful melodies and could immediately hear my own voice playing these melodies – specifically using the ‘Miles Davis sound’ of the Harmon mute”.

The first thing that strikes the listener is that “Diving For Pearls” straight-away sounds like a Colin Steele album. His melodic gift and trademark lyricism are apparent from the outset, even though these are not his tunes. Despite his difficulties Steele has retained a highly individual and readily identifiable instrumental sound and he immediately claims these melodies as his own, a process greatly encouraged by Milligan’s masterful arrangements.

The album title seems to allude to the lyrics of the song “Shipbuilding” (by Clive Langer and Elvis Costello), which seems apt given that Steele’s trumpet playing shares something of the fragility, vulnerability and sheer beauty of Robert Wyatt’s definitive vocal performance of that song.

“Diving For Pearls” commences with “The Bluebells”, a song from The Pearlfishers album “Up With The Larks”. Steele immediately establishes his signature sound for this album by deploying the Harmon mute for his initial theme statement and opening solo.  As “Even in the Darkest Places” so admirably and memorably demonstrated Steele has put his problems well behind him and is again playing with the same grace and fluency that characterised his earlier albums. “The Bluebells” has a bitter-sweet feel about it, the melancholy ring of Steele’s muted trumpet contrasting well with the exuberance of Milligan’s playing as Gourlay and Cosker provide skilful and empathic support with Cosker drumming up something of a storm as the piece gathers considerable momentum in its closing stages.

“We’ll Get By” epitomises Scott and Steele’s shared love of melody and adds a folkish, decidedly Celtic lilt to the proceedings. Still playing with the mute Steele is at his most lyrical, a quality shared by Milligan. Gourlay and Cosker again provide wonderfully sympathetic support.

A brief trumpet and piano duet introduces “Everything Works Out”, a song that is something of a favourite among the Pearlfishers fan-base. Steele plays with great sensitivity, sounding almost fragile at times, but still playing with great assurance and fluidity. Gourlay also features as a soloist with a short passage of melodic double bass and Milligan delivers a pithy but lyrical solo. But ultimately the piece is all about Steele’s bruised fluency.

“The Vampires Of Camelon” adopts a more forthright approach with Milligan delivering a more expansive solo and Gourlay enjoying another cameo. Steele’s own playing catches the mood with his most strident solo to date, although that’s still relative in the context of the album overall.

“Ice Race”, from the Pearlfishers’ seasonal album “A Sunflower At Christmas” keeps the energy levels high with Cosker’s powerful drumming driving the piece. The drummer is known as something of a powerhouse and he clearly relishes the opportunity to flex his muscles here on this intensely rhythmic piece. But overall this album demonstrates what a fine all round musician Cosker has become. Others to shine on this track are Milligan with a tumbling piano solo and Gourlay with a brief solo cameo and some meaty, propulsive bass playing overall. Meanwhile the leader moves up yet another gear with his most unfettered playing of the set. 

“You’ll Never Steal My Spirit” finds Steele extemporising on trumpet above Milligan’s gently insistent piano arpeggios. The leader’s tone is reminiscent of that of Miles Davis on the classic “Sketches of Spain” album. Elsewhere Gourlay’s melodic, but deeply resonant bass, assumes the lead on a couple of occasions and Milligan also takes the opportunity to stretch out.

Gourlay also features extensively on “Gone In The Winter” which opens with a passage of unaccompanied double bass before progressing into a brief dialogue with Steele’s trumpet. There’s a fragile beauty about this performance which includes two further melodic bass solos alongside Steele’s trumpet lyricism and Milligan’s limpid piano. The piece ends with Gourlay’s bass accompanied by the gentle shimmer of Cosker’s cymbals.

It’s also Cosker’s filigree cymbal work that ushers in “Snow On The Pines”, a piece possessed of chilly beauty that is reminiscent of an ECM recording, something encouraged by the subtle use of space, a characteristic that defines the album as a whole. However it’s far from a bloodless performance as the music gathers momentum with Gourlay’s bass occasionally threatening to take the melodic lead. Meanwhile Cosker plays with great assurance throughout, skilfully responding to the playing of Steele and Milligan plus the shifting dynamics of the composition.

Milligan introduces “The Umbrellas Of Shibuya”, his piano subsequently joined in dialogue by Cosker’s drums and cymbals. Gourlay briefly assumes the lead before handing over to Steele. Milligan’s playing on the intro has been compared to that of Riyuichi Sakomoto but his later solo is more expansive and more obviously ‘jazz’. It’s a piece that emphasises the chemistry between the members of the rhythm section who interact superbly throughout the album.

The album concludes with a brief coda in the shape of “Swan Dreams”, a tune sourced from the Pearlfishers’ “Sky Meadows” album.

Following his triumphant return earlier in the year Steele has delivered another gem, albeit a delightfully understated one. Such is the beauty and lyricism of this album that it’s hard to believe that it was recorded in the course of a single day (at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland, Scotland). Praise is due to producer Steele and the engineering team of Steve Hamilton in Scotland and Bo Kondren at Calyx Studios in Berlin where the album was mastered. The recorded sound is fresh and pristine throughout yet retains a vital warmth and intimacy.

However the lion’s share of the credit should go to the musicians themselves who all perform superbly, both individually and collectively, within the environment of a very well balanced quartet. Steele’s muted trumpet is inevitably at the heart of the sound but the faithful Milligan makes an excellent foil and the pianist should also be congratulated on his superb arrangements. Gourlay is given an admirable amount of room in which to express himself and delivers one of his best recorded performances to date. Similarly this is probably Cosker’s most mature work to date, an exquisite blend of sensitivity and occasional nascent power.

Steele and his colleagues very much make The Pearlfisher’s repertoire their own but such is the beauty and quality of Scott’s melodies that one also feels inclined to check out his own group’s recordings.


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