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Henry Lowther’s Still Waters - Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic. One of the most significant releases of 2018.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”

(Village Life Records 171013VL)

Born in Leicester in 1941 trumpeter, violinist and composer Henry Lowther is one of the great unsung heroes of British music. In his childhood he played cornet with Salvation Army and colliery bands while also learning classical violin at the behest of his mother.

On leaving school Lowther moved to London to study classical violin at the Royal Academy of Music but soon abandoned this to embrace the vibrant jazz and rock scene of the capital with the trumpet now his principal instrument.

The prolific Lowther worked with anybody and everybody including Manfred Mann, John Mayall and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. In 1969 he appeared at the famous Woodstock festival as part of drummer Keef Hartley’s band.

Inspired by the Indo-Jazz experimentations of violinist John Mayer Lowther began to embrace jazz more wholeheartedly and began lengthy associations with the bands led by saxophonist John Dankworth, pianist Mike Westbrook and trombonist and composer Mike Gibbs, the last of these still ongoing.

Lowther was an in demand session musician at this time appearing on many pop and rock albums. He even led a ‘horn section for a hire’ that went by the cheeky moniker of Tower of Lowther. I seem to recall first hearing his playing on classic prog rock albums like Egg’s “The Polite Force” and Caravan’s “For Girls Who grow Plump In The Night”. He’s played with rather more famous names too including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Van Morrison.

In the intervening years Lowther has become more associated with jazz and is particularly well known for his work with large ensembles, including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Graham Collier, Michael Garrick, George Russell, Gil Evans, Hermeto Pascoal, Scott Stroman, Kenny Wheeler, Frank Griffith and others. He has performed regularly with the BBC Concert Orchestra and was once a member of the jazz big band led by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed witnessing performances by Lowther as a member of bands led by Gibbs and Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra and the most recent edition of the Dedication Orchestra. In 2017 he was part of the jazz orchestra that toured the UK under the leadership of reeds player and composer Julian Siegel.

Lowther has been a professional musician for over fifty years and thus it’s practically impossible to list all of his achievements. His current activities include writing and playing for the London Jazz Orchestra, performing with guitarist Jim Mullen’s Great Wee Band and experimenting with free improvisation as part of a trio with violinist Satuko Fukada and guitarist John Russell.

All this in addition to his to his long running quintet Still Waters, a group that serves as an outlet for Lowther’s small group writing. Incredibly it’s been over twenty years since the group’s 1997 début “I.D.” which appeared on drummer Paul Clarvis’ Village Life imprint – as does this long awaited follow up.

I remember buying a copy of “I.D.” back in the day and I still love the album, as did many others for it was very well received. The 1997 edition of Still Waters included Lowther and Clarvis plus bassist Dave Green, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and pianist Pete Saberton. The album included seven Lowther original compositions, a version of the Rodgers & Hart song “It Never Entered My Mind” and a stunningly beautiful Arguelles arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, my favourite piece of Christmas music.

Despite the hiatus between recordings the band has continued to be active and I recall enjoying a set by the quintet at the 2008 Brecon Festival featuring Lowther, Clarvis, Green and Saberton with Pete Hurt replacing Arguelles on saxophone.

I also remember seeing Lowther play a standards gig with a local rhythm section led by Abergavenny based drummer John Gibbon. This took place in a pub at Goodrich, Herefordshire and was part of a short tour of South Wales and the borders featuring this one off quartet. This was before my writing days and is therefore undocumented but it’s likely that the band also featured bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Phil Mead. Gibbon used to organise similar tours on a regular basis with guest soloists coming up from London to spend a week gigging in the Welsh Marches. They all seemed to love it. Other illustrious visitors included saxophonists Ray Warleigh and Duncan Lamont and trumpeter Dick Pearce.

Returning now to the 2018 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012.

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” follows a similar format to its predecessor with the programme including six Lowther originals, an arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein composed standard “Some Other Time” and a brief Pete Hurt original dedicated to the memory of Saberton.

The album commences with the title track, one of two pieces that was already in the group’s repertoire at the time of the 2008 Brecon performance. Lowther dedicates it to “sceptics everywhere”. The piece begins quietly with a solo brushed drum introduction from Clarvis. Lowther’s opening theme statement is almost hymnal, inspired by his Salvation Army upbringing perhaps, as his mellifluous lines are shadowed by Clarvis and Barry Green at the piano. Lowther then undertakes an eloquent, subtly probing trumpet solo, his tone conversational and unhurried. Hurt, who specialises on tenor saxophone throughout the album, subsequently takes over, his sound warm and fluent. Barry Green is similarly lyrical at the piano and the piece concludes with a group restatement of that lovely, hymn like theme.

“Mateja Sleeps” was written several years ago for Lowther’s then eight year old niece. The composer describes the piece as a “lullaby” and the mood is again gentle and lyrical with the focus very much on melody. Dave Green’s bass plays a prominent part in the arrangement and he delivers a delightfully melodic solo accompanied by namesake Barry’s sparse piano chording and the delicate rustle of Clarvis’ brushes. Lowther’s flugel solo exhibits a velvety eloquence while Barry Green’s piano solo is luminously limpid.

“Saippuakauppias” was written for a tour that Lowther undertook with a group of Finnish musicians. The title (meaning “soap vendor”) is a palindrome and the structure of the tune reflects this, especially with regard to the opening and closing themes. “The musicians punished me on the tour by getting me to try to pronounce the title to the Finnish audience every night” recalls Lowther in his album notes. The tone of the piece is arguably darker than its predecessors but the focus still remains on melody with the folk like theme providing the jumping off point for a fluent, gently exploratory tenor solo from Hurt and a flowing piano solo from Barry Green.

“Amber” is dedicated to Barry Green’s young daughter. “If they ever have a son named Red they’ll have a completer traffic light set” jokes Lowther in his notes. The tune is a charming ballad that features the lyrical, translucent sounds of Barry Green’s piano, sensitively accompanied by double bass and delicately brushed. Hurt subsequently takes up the melody on tenor, blending superbly with Lowther’s lustrous brass tones.

The traffic light theme continues with “Lights of the North Circular”, a tune that was already in the Still Waters repertoire at Brecon back in 2008. Lowther is a highly intelligent individual with a very English eccentric streak. Naming a tune after a now removed set of traffic lights the A406 is very Henry Lowther. Although less formally structured than some of the other pieces on the album the tune still has a typically melodic and attractive theme but one that provides greater scope for collective and individual improvisation. The group stretch out further than previously with Dave Green’s grounding bass liberating Clarvis who offers brisk but cogent brushed drum commentary throughout the piece, shadowing and responding to the horns. Hurt takes the first real solo, needling away on tenor in exploratory fashion. He’s followed by the brightly burnished tones of Lowther’s trumpet with Barry Green also contributing a thoughtful piano solo as Clarvis continues to roam.

The vibrant “Something Else” is based on rhythms played by the Moroccan Gnawa musicians from Essaouira that Lowther played with in Rabat several years ago. The composer explains that he didn’t set out to write a piece in this vein but that somehow his North African experience had remained in his consciousness subliminally. It’s a highly rhythmic piece that sees the horns doubling up on the bouncy, catchy theme before stretching out on the solos with Lowther going first on trumpet, his playing fleet and fluent. Barry Green follows on piano, and finally Hurt on tenor.
Clarvis combines effectively with all three soloists, his playing throughout the album is consistently excellent;  bright, colourful, imaginative and inventive, consistently busy yet never sounding overbearing or cluttered.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” represents the only standard on the album. Lowther gives a master class in ballad playing, his tone pure, measured and emotive. Barry Green is the epitome of lyrical good taste at the piano as namesake Dave and drummer Clarvis provide sensitive, almost subliminal accompaniment.

The album concludes with “Epilogue – For Pete”, Hurt’s brief but profoundly eloquent dedication to the band’s former pianist, the late Pete Saberton.

The band regard recording engineer Andrew Hallifax as their “sixth” member and the recorded sound is wonderful throughout “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” with the clarity of the mix simultaneously serving the individual musicians, the whole ensemble and the compositions well. There’s a spaciousness about the production that brings out the best in both the music and the musicians.

Halifax also worked on “I.D.” and like its predecessor the new album was recorded in a church, in this case St. George’s Headstone Church in Harrow, north west London. “I.D.” was documented at All Saints Church in Petersham in the London borough of Richmond.

It’s been a long time coming but “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” has been well worth the wait. Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic and a worthy successor to the much loved “I.D.” Lowther’s playing and writing are reminiscent of the late, great Kenny Wheeler at his best.

Its long gestation period plus the sheer quality of the music ensures that “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”  is destined to be one of the most significant British jazz releases of 2018.

London jazz audiences will get the opportunity of hearing this music performed live when Henry Lowther and Still Waters visit the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston on the evening of Saturday March 3rd 2018.

Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe

Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic. One of the most significant releases of 2018.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”

(Village Life Records 171013VL)

Born in Leicester in 1941 trumpeter, violinist and composer Henry Lowther is one of the great unsung heroes of British music. In his childhood he played cornet with Salvation Army and colliery bands while also learning classical violin at the behest of his mother.

On leaving school Lowther moved to London to study classical violin at the Royal Academy of Music but soon abandoned this to embrace the vibrant jazz and rock scene of the capital with the trumpet now his principal instrument.

The prolific Lowther worked with anybody and everybody including Manfred Mann, John Mayall and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. In 1969 he appeared at the famous Woodstock festival as part of drummer Keef Hartley’s band.

Inspired by the Indo-Jazz experimentations of violinist John Mayer Lowther began to embrace jazz more wholeheartedly and began lengthy associations with the bands led by saxophonist John Dankworth, pianist Mike Westbrook and trombonist and composer Mike Gibbs, the last of these still ongoing.

Lowther was an in demand session musician at this time appearing on many pop and rock albums. He even led a ‘horn section for a hire’ that went by the cheeky moniker of Tower of Lowther. I seem to recall first hearing his playing on classic prog rock albums like Egg’s “The Polite Force” and Caravan’s “For Girls Who grow Plump In The Night”. He’s played with rather more famous names too including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Elton John and Van Morrison.

In the intervening years Lowther has become more associated with jazz and is particularly well known for his work with large ensembles, including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Graham Collier, Michael Garrick, George Russell, Gil Evans, Hermeto Pascoal, Scott Stroman, Kenny Wheeler, Frank Griffith and others. He has performed regularly with the BBC Concert Orchestra and was once a member of the jazz big band led by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed witnessing performances by Lowther as a member of bands led by Gibbs and Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra and the most recent edition of the Dedication Orchestra. In 2017 he was part of the jazz orchestra that toured the UK under the leadership of reeds player and composer Julian Siegel.

Lowther has been a professional musician for over fifty years and thus it’s practically impossible to list all of his achievements. His current activities include writing and playing for the London Jazz Orchestra, performing with guitarist Jim Mullen’s Great Wee Band and experimenting with free improvisation as part of a trio with violinist Satuko Fukada and guitarist John Russell.

All this in addition to his to his long running quintet Still Waters, a group that serves as an outlet for Lowther’s small group writing. Incredibly it’s been over twenty years since the group’s 1997 début “I.D.” which appeared on drummer Paul Clarvis’ Village Life imprint – as does this long awaited follow up.

I remember buying a copy of “I.D.” back in the day and I still love the album, as did many others for it was very well received. The 1997 edition of Still Waters included Lowther and Clarvis plus bassist Dave Green, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and pianist Pete Saberton. The album included seven Lowther original compositions, a version of the Rodgers & Hart song “It Never Entered My Mind” and a stunningly beautiful Arguelles arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, my favourite piece of Christmas music.

Despite the hiatus between recordings the band has continued to be active and I recall enjoying a set by the quintet at the 2008 Brecon Festival featuring Lowther, Clarvis, Green and Saberton with Pete Hurt replacing Arguelles on saxophone.

I also remember seeing Lowther play a standards gig with a local rhythm section led by Abergavenny based drummer John Gibbon. This took place in a pub at Goodrich, Herefordshire and was part of a short tour of South Wales and the borders featuring this one off quartet. This was before my writing days and is therefore undocumented but it’s likely that the band also featured bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Phil Mead. Gibbon used to organise similar tours on a regular basis with guest soloists coming up from London to spend a week gigging in the Welsh Marches. They all seemed to love it. Other illustrious visitors included saxophonists Ray Warleigh and Duncan Lamont and trumpeter Dick Pearce.

Returning now to the 2018 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012.

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” follows a similar format to its predecessor with the programme including six Lowther originals, an arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein composed standard “Some Other Time” and a brief Pete Hurt original dedicated to the memory of Saberton.

The album commences with the title track, one of two pieces that was already in the group’s repertoire at the time of the 2008 Brecon performance. Lowther dedicates it to “sceptics everywhere”. The piece begins quietly with a solo brushed drum introduction from Clarvis. Lowther’s opening theme statement is almost hymnal, inspired by his Salvation Army upbringing perhaps, as his mellifluous lines are shadowed by Clarvis and Barry Green at the piano. Lowther then undertakes an eloquent, subtly probing trumpet solo, his tone conversational and unhurried. Hurt, who specialises on tenor saxophone throughout the album, subsequently takes over, his sound warm and fluent. Barry Green is similarly lyrical at the piano and the piece concludes with a group restatement of that lovely, hymn like theme.

“Mateja Sleeps” was written several years ago for Lowther’s then eight year old niece. The composer describes the piece as a “lullaby” and the mood is again gentle and lyrical with the focus very much on melody. Dave Green’s bass plays a prominent part in the arrangement and he delivers a delightfully melodic solo accompanied by namesake Barry’s sparse piano chording and the delicate rustle of Clarvis’ brushes. Lowther’s flugel solo exhibits a velvety eloquence while Barry Green’s piano solo is luminously limpid.

“Saippuakauppias” was written for a tour that Lowther undertook with a group of Finnish musicians. The title (meaning “soap vendor”) is a palindrome and the structure of the tune reflects this, especially with regard to the opening and closing themes. “The musicians punished me on the tour by getting me to try to pronounce the title to the Finnish audience every night” recalls Lowther in his album notes. The tone of the piece is arguably darker than its predecessors but the focus still remains on melody with the folk like theme providing the jumping off point for a fluent, gently exploratory tenor solo from Hurt and a flowing piano solo from Barry Green.

“Amber” is dedicated to Barry Green’s young daughter. “If they ever have a son named Red they’ll have a completer traffic light set” jokes Lowther in his notes. The tune is a charming ballad that features the lyrical, translucent sounds of Barry Green’s piano, sensitively accompanied by double bass and delicately brushed. Hurt subsequently takes up the melody on tenor, blending superbly with Lowther’s lustrous brass tones.

The traffic light theme continues with “Lights of the North Circular”, a tune that was already in the Still Waters repertoire at Brecon back in 2008. Lowther is a highly intelligent individual with a very English eccentric streak. Naming a tune after a now removed set of traffic lights the A406 is very Henry Lowther. Although less formally structured than some of the other pieces on the album the tune still has a typically melodic and attractive theme but one that provides greater scope for collective and individual improvisation. The group stretch out further than previously with Dave Green’s grounding bass liberating Clarvis who offers brisk but cogent brushed drum commentary throughout the piece, shadowing and responding to the horns. Hurt takes the first real solo, needling away on tenor in exploratory fashion. He’s followed by the brightly burnished tones of Lowther’s trumpet with Barry Green also contributing a thoughtful piano solo as Clarvis continues to roam.

The vibrant “Something Else” is based on rhythms played by the Moroccan Gnawa musicians from Essaouira that Lowther played with in Rabat several years ago. The composer explains that he didn’t set out to write a piece in this vein but that somehow his North African experience had remained in his consciousness subliminally. It’s a highly rhythmic piece that sees the horns doubling up on the bouncy, catchy theme before stretching out on the solos with Lowther going first on trumpet, his playing fleet and fluent. Barry Green follows on piano, and finally Hurt on tenor.
Clarvis combines effectively with all three soloists, his playing throughout the album is consistently excellent;  bright, colourful, imaginative and inventive, consistently busy yet never sounding overbearing or cluttered.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” represents the only standard on the album. Lowther gives a master class in ballad playing, his tone pure, measured and emotive. Barry Green is the epitome of lyrical good taste at the piano as namesake Dave and drummer Clarvis provide sensitive, almost subliminal accompaniment.

The album concludes with “Epilogue – For Pete”, Hurt’s brief but profoundly eloquent dedication to the band’s former pianist, the late Pete Saberton.

The band regard recording engineer Andrew Hallifax as their “sixth” member and the recorded sound is wonderful throughout “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” with the clarity of the mix simultaneously serving the individual musicians, the whole ensemble and the compositions well. There’s a spaciousness about the production that brings out the best in both the music and the musicians.

Halifax also worked on “I.D.” and like its predecessor the new album was recorded in a church, in this case St. George’s Headstone Church in Harrow, north west London. “I.D.” was documented at All Saints Church in Petersham in the London borough of Richmond.

It’s been a long time coming but “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” has been well worth the wait. Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic and a worthy successor to the much loved “I.D.” Lowther’s playing and writing are reminiscent of the late, great Kenny Wheeler at his best.

Its long gestation period plus the sheer quality of the music ensures that “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”  is destined to be one of the most significant British jazz releases of 2018.

London jazz audiences will get the opportunity of hearing this music performed live when Henry Lowther and Still Waters visit the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston on the evening of Saturday March 3rd 2018.


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