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StrayHorn Quartet - One Drop Love Chant Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An attractive post bop album featuring compositions in a variety of jazz styles well played by a highly competent band.

StrayHorn Quartet

“One Drop Love Chant”

Soulito Records 0002)

Here is yet another album that has been languishing in the “to do” file for far too long.

StrayHorn Quartet is a group of the West Country’s finest jazz musicians led by saxophonist and composer Dom Franks. The band also includes Cheltenham based pianist Alex Steele, drummer Matthew Jones and bassist Will Harris, a musician who has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of the groups Moonlight Saving Time and Michelson Morley and as part of the Kevin Figes Quartet. 

Franks, also from Cheltenham, founded StrayHorn Quartet in 2010. Once a student of the acclaimed saxophonist Jean Toussaint he is also a former winner of the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Musician of the Year award.  The group’s début album “In Native Tongues” (2011) received a favourable review in Jazzwise Magazine and garnered airplay on specialist jazz radio stations in the UK and abroad. The quartet have also gigged regularly, particularly in the South West and the Midlands and have made a number of festival appearances.

The group name may suggest that the quartet specialises in covering or adapting Billy Strayhorn tunes but their focus is actually on the original compositions of Franks and Steele.  “One Drop Love Chant” features nine original compositions by Franks plus one from the pen of Steele. The tunes embrace a variety of jazz styles with Franks citing pianists Robert Glasper and Taylor Eigsti plus saxophonist Joshua Redman as important contemporary influences.

As its title might suggest “Funk Felonies” is a spirited opener with a strong funk groove courtesy of Harris and Jones. This kind of thing is meat and drink to Jones, best known as the drummer for Bristol based jazz/soul/funk outfit Phantom Limb. Franks contributes Sanborn style alto sax, Steele delivers a lively solo on acoustic piano (he also doubles on Fender Rhodes) and there’s also something of a feature for Jones.

There’s a gospel flavoured soul/jazz feel to “Soulito” which again sees Steele doubling on acoustic and electric keyboards. Franks’ alto shares the soloing with Steele on acoustic piano as Harris and Jones provide the sultry grooves.

“Samba della Laguna” is an infectiously joyous Brazilian inspired piece that is introduced by Jones at the drums. He’s a galvanising presence throughout, fuelling sparkling solos by Franks on soprano and Steele at the piano as the Copacabana comes to the Cotswolds. 

Franks remains on soprano for “Abram’s Lament”, a beautiful dedication to the memory of trumpeter, composer and educator Abram Wilson (1973-2012), a frequent visitor to Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Franks’ elegant ballad is introduced by Steele at the piano before going on to feature the leader’s airy, feathery soprano. Steele’s solo features him at his most lyrical and the support from Harris and Jones is correspondingly sympathetic and sensitive. The bassist also features in his own right with a brief cameo that is entirely within the spirit of the piece.

Presumably “Chucho!” is a dedication to the great Colombian jazz and session bassist Chucho Merchan, once of Ian Carr’s Nucleus. With Jones providing extra percussion in addition to his standard drum kit the quartet conduct a vibrant exploration of Afro-Cuban styles and rhythms within a jazz framework. Steele and Franks share the solos, the latter worrying away at his sax like a dog with a stick. There’s also something of a feature for Jones and a couple of brief cameos from Harris.

The title track marks a return to Franks’ funk leanings,  an indication of the importance of the sense of groove throughout the entire album. Buoyant funk grooves spark effusive solos from Franks and Steele on a piece that is very likely to be a favourite item in the Quartet’s live sets.

“For The Old Folks” is another lovely ballad performance introduced by Steele on solo acoustic piano. He then provides sympathetic accompaniment to Franks’ yearning tenor sax before delivering his own expansive but lyrical statement. Harris’ well measured bass solo is both resonant and melodic and Jones’ carefully judged brush work is excellent throughout.

Steele’s “Ssese” is a short, atmospheric cameo for solo Fender Rhodes that acts as a kind of prelude to Franks’ “A Domani (Until Tomorrow)”,which begins as a soaring ballad led by the composer’s alto sax. Franks’ tune also includes an agile bass feature from Harris and a probing solo from Steele as the focus alters and the momentum begins to build. Jones is featured on a series of drum breaks before the tune resolves itself with a return to its ballad origins.

The album concludes with a haunting return to “Abram’s Lament” in a sparse but emotive arrangement for just saxophone and piano that Franks has subtitled “Epilogue”.

“One Drop Love Chant” may not pull up any trees but it’s an attractive post bop album featuring compositions in a range of jazz styles well played by a highly competent band. There’s enough variety to keep the listener engaged and I would imagine that the StrayHorn Quartet would represent an enjoyable and convincing live act, a supposition supported by the sighting of Harris in a variety of other bands over the years and of Steele as part of a local trio backing such distinguished visiting soloists as saxophonists Julian Siegel and Jean Toussaint and trumpeter Damon Brown. In addition Franks and Jones both impress on this recording and I’d also welcome the opportunity of checking them out in a live setting. 

   

One Drop Love Chant

StrayHorn Quartet

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

One Drop Love Chant

An attractive post bop album featuring compositions in a variety of jazz styles well played by a highly competent band.

StrayHorn Quartet

“One Drop Love Chant”

Soulito Records 0002)

Here is yet another album that has been languishing in the “to do” file for far too long.

StrayHorn Quartet is a group of the West Country’s finest jazz musicians led by saxophonist and composer Dom Franks. The band also includes Cheltenham based pianist Alex Steele, drummer Matthew Jones and bassist Will Harris, a musician who has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of the groups Moonlight Saving Time and Michelson Morley and as part of the Kevin Figes Quartet. 

Franks, also from Cheltenham, founded StrayHorn Quartet in 2010. Once a student of the acclaimed saxophonist Jean Toussaint he is also a former winner of the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Musician of the Year award.  The group’s début album “In Native Tongues” (2011) received a favourable review in Jazzwise Magazine and garnered airplay on specialist jazz radio stations in the UK and abroad. The quartet have also gigged regularly, particularly in the South West and the Midlands and have made a number of festival appearances.

The group name may suggest that the quartet specialises in covering or adapting Billy Strayhorn tunes but their focus is actually on the original compositions of Franks and Steele.  “One Drop Love Chant” features nine original compositions by Franks plus one from the pen of Steele. The tunes embrace a variety of jazz styles with Franks citing pianists Robert Glasper and Taylor Eigsti plus saxophonist Joshua Redman as important contemporary influences.

As its title might suggest “Funk Felonies” is a spirited opener with a strong funk groove courtesy of Harris and Jones. This kind of thing is meat and drink to Jones, best known as the drummer for Bristol based jazz/soul/funk outfit Phantom Limb. Franks contributes Sanborn style alto sax, Steele delivers a lively solo on acoustic piano (he also doubles on Fender Rhodes) and there’s also something of a feature for Jones.

There’s a gospel flavoured soul/jazz feel to “Soulito” which again sees Steele doubling on acoustic and electric keyboards. Franks’ alto shares the soloing with Steele on acoustic piano as Harris and Jones provide the sultry grooves.

“Samba della Laguna” is an infectiously joyous Brazilian inspired piece that is introduced by Jones at the drums. He’s a galvanising presence throughout, fuelling sparkling solos by Franks on soprano and Steele at the piano as the Copacabana comes to the Cotswolds. 

Franks remains on soprano for “Abram’s Lament”, a beautiful dedication to the memory of trumpeter, composer and educator Abram Wilson (1973-2012), a frequent visitor to Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Franks’ elegant ballad is introduced by Steele at the piano before going on to feature the leader’s airy, feathery soprano. Steele’s solo features him at his most lyrical and the support from Harris and Jones is correspondingly sympathetic and sensitive. The bassist also features in his own right with a brief cameo that is entirely within the spirit of the piece.

Presumably “Chucho!” is a dedication to the great Colombian jazz and session bassist Chucho Merchan, once of Ian Carr’s Nucleus. With Jones providing extra percussion in addition to his standard drum kit the quartet conduct a vibrant exploration of Afro-Cuban styles and rhythms within a jazz framework. Steele and Franks share the solos, the latter worrying away at his sax like a dog with a stick. There’s also something of a feature for Jones and a couple of brief cameos from Harris.

The title track marks a return to Franks’ funk leanings,  an indication of the importance of the sense of groove throughout the entire album. Buoyant funk grooves spark effusive solos from Franks and Steele on a piece that is very likely to be a favourite item in the Quartet’s live sets.

“For The Old Folks” is another lovely ballad performance introduced by Steele on solo acoustic piano. He then provides sympathetic accompaniment to Franks’ yearning tenor sax before delivering his own expansive but lyrical statement. Harris’ well measured bass solo is both resonant and melodic and Jones’ carefully judged brush work is excellent throughout.

Steele’s “Ssese” is a short, atmospheric cameo for solo Fender Rhodes that acts as a kind of prelude to Franks’ “A Domani (Until Tomorrow)”,which begins as a soaring ballad led by the composer’s alto sax. Franks’ tune also includes an agile bass feature from Harris and a probing solo from Steele as the focus alters and the momentum begins to build. Jones is featured on a series of drum breaks before the tune resolves itself with a return to its ballad origins.

The album concludes with a haunting return to “Abram’s Lament” in a sparse but emotive arrangement for just saxophone and piano that Franks has subtitled “Epilogue”.

“One Drop Love Chant” may not pull up any trees but it’s an attractive post bop album featuring compositions in a range of jazz styles well played by a highly competent band. There’s enough variety to keep the listener engaged and I would imagine that the StrayHorn Quartet would represent an enjoyable and convincing live act, a supposition supported by the sighting of Harris in a variety of other bands over the years and of Steele as part of a local trio backing such distinguished visiting soloists as saxophonists Julian Siegel and Jean Toussaint and trumpeter Damon Brown. In addition Franks and Jones both impress on this recording and I’d also welcome the opportunity of checking them out in a live setting. 

   


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