Friday, July 27, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A remarkably assured début album from this quartet led by the young guitarist and composer Dan Messore and featuring the peerless talents of saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
(Babel Records BDV 1197)
Indigo Kid is a new band led by the young guitarist and composer Dan Messore who completed his MA in jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff but is now based in London. However Messore still works frequently in South Wales with the best musicians on the Welsh jazz scene.
The personnel Messore has chosen for this recording is a fascinating mix of youth and experience with Messore and young Cardiff drummer Gethin Jones (one of his former student buddies) being joined by two highly experienced musicians in the shape of bassist Tim Harries and former Loose Tubes saxophonist Iain Ballamy. Concurrently a member of the Anglo/Norwegian electro improvising duo Food Ballamy once mentored Messore at RWCMD and describes him as “a mature and confident musician with an individual approach to writing and playing”, an endorsement that is supported by the music on this remarkably assured début album. I’ve also heard that Messore is a good organiser with both the skill and the determination to survive in the sometimes unforgiving world of contemporary jazz.
The music on this album consists of eight original compositions by Messore with Ballamy contributing his arranging and production skills in addition to his peerless tenor saxophone playing. The only outside item is a beautiful interpretation of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love”.
A number of influences have been mentioned with regard to Messore’s playing and writing including the familiar guitar playing suspects Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell and also Kurt Rosenwinkel. At various moments Messore sounds vaguely like all of these but most of all he sounds like himself, having, in true jazz fashion, created an authentic personal identity out of the sum of his influences. Messore also cites the fact that he has travelled widely as a factor with Western, African and Brazilian folk forms also mentioned as sources of inspiration with other key influences said to include John Fahey, the late Bert Jansch, Lionel Loueke and Hermeto Pascoal.
The album begins, appropriately enough, with “First Light” which has something of Bill Frisell’s loping Americana sound but remains open enough to be an excellent vehicle for the soloists Messore and Ballamy. The saxophonist goes first and gives a glorious exhibition of his lyricism and remarkable fluency. Nothing sounds forced and the ideas just seem to flow effortlessly. Messore’s own solo reaches similar levels of fluidity as the young guitarist shows that he’s a musician to be reckoned with, the interplay between Messore and Ballamy is exceptional throughout the album. Jones shows a neatness and lightness of touch as he skips around his kit with Harries’ deeply resonant bass grooves holding it all together. An excellent start.
The solo guitar introduction to “Waitent Wantant” sounds a little like Pat Metheny in one of his more reflective moods. The tune then opens up to embrace spacious, unhurried meditations from the quartet, firstly from the always excellent Ballamy. Bassist Harries is given prominence in the mix and his virile bass sound is a good counter to the coolly melodic tone of Messore’s guitar. Later Ballamy expands upon his earlier contribution, his playing as rich and mellifluous as ever.
The solo guitar piece “Mr Lepard” has been much commented upon as Messore brings his folk roots into play evoking the spirit of Fahey and Jansch and with some commentators even referencing the Celtic influenced acoustic moments of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
“New Man New Place” is more obviously jazzy with more than a hint of bossa. Breezy and melodic the piece features the bass of Harries, alongside Messore’s nimble mix of fluent single note runs and jazzy chords. The quiet bustle of Jones’ drums keeps everything moving forward gently but briskly and Ballamy’s gloriously melodic Stan Getz like tenor is the icing on a very tasty confection indeed.
The title track presumably takes its name from the Clint Eastwood type character on the album cover. However the music is less obviously “wild west” than the image might suggest. Nonetheless
there is plenty of Metheny style melodicism framing Ballamy’s gently probing tenor solo and Messore’s own contribution is just as fine with Harries holding down the bottom end as Jones provides a subtle propulsion and a host of fine detail from the drums.
“Pages To A Friend” begins with an impressionistic, dark hued lament that showcases the woody timbres of Harries’ bass above Messore’s shimmering guitar atmospherics. It’s brief but lovely. The main body of the tune is a tender ballad that recalls Metheny at his most romantic. Messore’s crystalline guitar contrasts well with the huge sound of Harries’ bass as Jones’ delicately brushed drums add to the air of fragile beauty.
“Ode To Gilly” has more of the optimistic feel of the earlier pieces. A skipping, boppish groove provides the jumping off point for solos from Harries, Messore and Jones, the latter deploying brushes on a sprightly drum break that ushers in the saxophone of Ballamy. Here as throughout the album Ballamy’s fluency and lightness of tone suggest the influence of a tenor sax style running from Ben Webster through Warne Marsh to the contemporary sounds of Mark Turner.
A lovely reading of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” highlights the contrasting yet complementary sounds of Ballamy and Messore. It is perhaps no surprise that tenor saxophone and guitar is such a popular combination but few pairings have achieved the blend of lyricism and musical sophistication that Messore and Ballamy bring to this album.
The closing “Bioluminescence” begins with the lonely sound of Harries’ solo bass before the crack of Jones’ drums ushers in the rest of the band. Now the music takes on a soaring anthemic quality as Ballamy and Messore double up on the melody line with the guitarist adding varying degrees of embellishment. Gradually the music falls away to leave Messore and Harries the last men standing. Other than the intro there’s no orthodox soloing but the piece has something of the flag waving qualities of a rock stadium ballad.
Recorded at Lee Goodall’s Oakfield Studio near Newport “Indigo Kid” represents an astonishingly mature statement from Messore. His writing embraces a variety of sounds and styles but the album still represents a supremely coherent whole. Of course the presence of Ballamy is a tremendous help and the saxophonist and guitarist make a fine partnership, each enhancing the other’s qualities and never getting in one another’s way. Harries and Jones offer intelligent, sympathetic and flexible support. As a group Indigo Kid are a superb team.
Quibbles about this record are very few, the only problem being an element of Keith Jarrett style vocalising, presumably by Messore himself, that sometimes finds it’s way into the final mix. However with music and playing of this quality such youthful exuberance can be easily forgiven. The album has received universally good reviews and on this evidence it’s easy to see why.
Messore will perform the music from “Indigo Kid” at Brecon Jazz festival at 3.00 pm on Saturday August 10th with a line up featuring Trish Clowes (tenor sax), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Martin France (drums). See http://www.breconjazz.com
Messore’s other projects include the Lacuna Quintet featuring the experienced trumpeter Steve Waterman, plus Lee Goodall on reeds and the young Cardiff based rhythm section of Aidan Thorne (bass) and Ollie Howell (drums). I’ll be taking a look at their album “Talk On The Step” (also Babel) in due course. In the meantime there’s always this extraordinarily accomplished recording to enjoy.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.