Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A very enjoyable album that touches a number of stylistic bases and highlights the tremendous rapport between the co-leaders Tim Whitehead and Tony Woods.
(HomeMade Records HMR 053)
Kwartet is a new group featuring the combined abilities of two of Britain’s most talented reed players in the shape of Tim Whitehead and Tony Woods. Their album “Seventh Daze” appears on Whitehead’s HomeMade imprint in association with Woods’ own Marquetry Records and the recording also features drummer Milo Fell who has worked previously with both of the co-leaders, making him a natural choice for this quartet. Electric bass specialist Patrick Bettison is a less obvious candidate but he is excellent throughout, adding considerable rhythmic impetus alongside his virtuoso solo contributions. The programme consists of a number of originals from Whitehead and Woods, one tune from Bettison, a smattering of jazz and bebop standards plus a distinctive Whitehead arrangement of the traditional folk classic “Blackwaterside”.
The contrast between the styles of the co-leaders is a constant source of fascination throughout “Seventh Daze”. Whitehead features on tenor and soprano while Woods’ arsenal consists of alto, tenor and soprano saxes plus alto clarinet. Whitehead’s playing is established more firmly in the jazz tradition with Woods bringing something of the folk/world element that predominates in his own band, the Tony Woods Project. Despite their stylistic differences the two reed men complement each other very well and their dialogue consistently engages the listener throughout the album.
Whitehead’s quirky opening title track opens with sharply pecked asymmetric phrases leading to more regular bebop inspired four bar exchanges between the two horns. Crucially plenty of space is left open for Bettison and Fell to add their own stamp to the music. Bettison features strongly with the first of several excellent solos throughout the album and Fell’s brisk, colourful, neatly idiosyncratic drumming is a constant delight throughout this piece. He sounds as if he’s having a ball.
Woods’ “Dilemma” has something of the folk and world feel that imbues much of his solo work. A lilting, slinky 5/4 groove underpins Woods’ North African/Middle Eastern style soloing, the composer’s soprano subtly underscored by Whitehead’s tenor. The way the two horns dovetail is utterly seductive with Bettison and Fell providing typically colourful but totally sympathetic rhythmic accompaniment.
Bettison’s “Bustling Stomach” is a lively funk tune propelled by the composer’s deeply rhythmic groove and Fell’s crisp, funky drumming. The two horns converse joyously over the top, hooting, honking and fluttering. There’s an unpretentious sense of joie de vivre that’s nigh on irresistible.
There’s a change of mood with Whitehead’s nocturnal ballad “Underlined” which has a real old fashioned after hours feel courtesy of the composer’s warmly seductive, smoky tenor and Woods’ grainy but mellow alto clarinet. Bettison, on bass guitar, is at his most lyrical and the understated Fell adds just the right splashes of colour in the tune’s closing stages.
The same feeling is sustained through the intro of the Rogers and Hart standard “My Romance” which sees the saxophonists trading solos as Bettison’s bass grooves gradually increase the momentum. There are features for Bettison and Fell too- more than “just” a rhythm section the imagination and inventiveness of these two adds greatly to the success of the album as a whole.
The traditional song “Blackwaterside” is one of the most familiar items in the folk canon and has been covered by Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny and many others. Personally I love Oysterband’s rousing version of the song on their 2002 album “Rise Above” sung with great power and conviction by lead vocalist John Jones. However I digress. Whitehead’s arrangement takes the instantly recognisable melody as the jumping off point for some inspired improvisation featuring the carousing of the two horns allied to some characteristically flexible and intelligent work from the rhythm section. It’s very different to the Oysters’ version but equally stirring in its own way.
An enjoyably busy romp through Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Confirmation” keeps the energy levels bubbling with the twin saxes sinuously intertwining and with typically colourful cameos from Bettison and Fell.
There seems to be a tendency for tracks on the record to be scheduled in complementary pairs (the ballads “Underlined and “My Romance” followed by the more extrovert arrangements of “Blackwaterside and “Confirmation”). Thus the next two items by Whitehead are pieces written by the saxophonist for a dance piece choreographed by his daughter, Maisie. “Kristina” opens with a duet between Whitehead and Bettison with the saxophonist blowing long, mournful lines over an electric bass underpinning. There’s a Coltrane-esque middle section by the quartet that mutates into a thrilling saxophone duet full of punchy, staccato phrasing before the rhythm section return for a high energy finale. By way of contrast “Claire and Kristina” is a tender waltz with the emphasis Woods’ starkly beautiful alto solo.
Woods’ “Rowing Blues” is unexpectedly upbeat, driven by Bettison’s supple, propulsive grooves and Fell’s funkily insistent drumming the piece represents the opportunity for the twin saxophonists to enjoy a right old tear up. This is invigorating stuff which must go down a storm live.
An arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” marks a return to more lyrical virtues with both saxophonists and Bettison acquitting themselves particularly well.
Woods’ “Pantagruel” is quirky, playful and whimsical and owes something to the composer’s folk and world leanings. It’s enormous fun with an almost childlike sense of mischief. The album concludes with a brief reprise of the saxophone duet that introduces “Blackwaterside”.
“Seventh Daze” is very enjoyable album that touches a number of stylistic bases and highlights the tremendous rapport between the co-leaders Whitehead and Woods. Bettison and Fell also make invaluable contributions, Fell’s colourful, quirkily imaginative drumming is a constant source of delight. The originals from the members of the group are suitably varied and the arrangements of jazz and folk tunes find something fresh to say about their subjects. Whitehead has long enjoyed adapting pop tunes for performance by jazz ensembles (as on his 1999 album “Personal Standards”) but his successful treatment of “Blackwaterside” suggests a new folk orientated direction for him to explore.
At seventy minutes plus the album is arguably over long but who can blame Whitehead and Woods for wanting to get all their ideas out there when the opportunity for recording arose. The music on this album would constitute the nucleus of a very good and well balanced live performance.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.