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Alban Claret & Evan Clegg

The Collection

by Ian Mann

May 12, 2021


As composers they have come up with a set of highly accomplished & hugely enjoyable tunes written in the bebop tradition. The quality of the playing from a very well balanced quintet is exceptional.

Alban Claret / Evan Clegg

“The Collection”

(Elsden Music)

Alban Claret – guitar, Evan Clegg- trumpet, flugelhorn, Duncan Eagles – tenor sax, Like Fowler – double bass, Kuba Miazga – drums

“The Collection” features the playing of a quintet co-led by the French guitarist Alban Claret and the Yorkshire born trumpeter Evan Clegg. Now both based in London the pair joined forces to record a ‘collection’ of compositions inspired by the works of some of their primary influences, notably saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Lennie Tristano.

Originally from the south of France Claret began learning guitar at the age of eight and later studied at the Royal Conservatory of the Netherlands with tutor Martijn van Iterson. He was later mentored by the great American guitarist Peter Bernstein. Claret has toured extensively throughout Europe and has worked with other leading American musicians such as saxophonist Dave Liebman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.

Clegg studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and was also mentored by the late, great Kenny Wheeler. In addition to performing regularly at London’s leading jazz venues he has also toured internationally with reggae acts such as Max Romeo and Lee Scratch Perry. He credits Wheeler with helping to shape his playing but also cites his time with Romeo and Perry as being beneficial in terms of “learning a lot about rhythm, ensemble playing and phrasing”.

Apparently Claret and Clegg first encountered each other at a fortuitous meeting at Tate Britain and upon discovering a shared love of bebop decided to pool their resources. After playing together for some time they began to write their own material, coming up with the collection of seven pieces that comprise the programme for this début album. Three items come from the pen of Claret alone with a further four pieces being jointly composed.

The music represents an updating of the bebop tradition with the track titles making knowing references both to existing jazz compositions and to the duo’s musical heroes.

Album opener “The Collection” is a jointly composed blues that that kicks things off at a brisk pace with some crisp ensemble playing on the head leading, in the best bebop tradition, to more expansive individual solo statements.
It’s Duncan Eagles who takes the plunge first with a typically fluent tenor solo that combines power with eloquence. It represents quite a coup for Claret and Clegg to get Eagles on board. Although still comparatively young Eagles has established himself as a great favourite with UK jazz audiences, whether playing within the tradition as here or pushing further at the boundaries as the leader of the experimental trio Partikel. Something of a Jazzmann favourite Eagles has been a regular presence on these web pages, primarily with Partikel but also in a variety of other settings.
He is followed by Claret, who retains the high standard of fluency with a melodic and highly inventive guitar solo. He has clearly learnt well from Bernstein and his playing has also evoked comparisons with that of the late jazz guitar greats Barney Kessel and Jimmy Raney.
Next we hear from Clegg, who favours a softly focussed trumpet tone reminiscent of that of Miles Davis, although the influence of other bop era trumpeters can be heard in his sound.
This opening composition serves as a fine introduction to the individual voices of the band and the piece is rounded off with individual features for the excellent rhythm team of Fowler and Miazga, with the latter a busy and impressive presence throughout the track.

Claret’s composition “Al A Parker” represents an obvious homage to ‘Bird’ with its slippery bebop inspired melody lines and typically sharp ensemble playing. This time round the composer leads off the solos, his lithe and agile guitar lines followed by the co-leader on muted trumpet and then Eagles on assured and authoritative tenor. These solo episodes are concise and pithy and there also brief but lively cameos from both Fowler on bass and Miazga at the drums.

The jointly written “Unprescribed Playfulness” slows the tempo a little and is arguably the most sophisticated composition on the record. The opening section features gently intertwining trumpet and tenor sax melodies, with Claret’s guitar providing sensitive chordal accompaniment in conjunction with simpatico bass and drums. In a bebop context this is an unusual instrumental line up, with Claret sometimes required to undertake some of the rhythmic duties that would normally be fulfilled by a piano. Nevertheless its Claret that delivers the first solo, his softly melodic meditations followed by the more forceful sounds of Eagles’ relentlessly inventive tenor sax, which eventually merges once more with the mellower sounds of Clegg’s trumpet in this carefully crafted composition.

Another co-composition “Mind Block”, pays homage to Lennie Tristano, but still sounds distinctly Parker-esque with its bustling unison melody lines featuring trumpet and guitar, underpinned by busily brushed drums. Clegg is the first to take the spotlight with a lively and inventive trumpet solo straight out of the bop tradition. Claret is similarly nimble on the guitar with a restlessly inventive bop inspired solo. Eagles then weighs in on tenor, trading phrases with Miazga at the drums.

The marvellously named “Stella By Artois” cools things down a little with Clegg stating the attractive theme on flugel prior to a richly melodic bass solo from Fowler, underscored by Claret’s economical guitar chording and the rustle Miazga’s brushed drums. The pace picks up with Eagles’ lucid tenor solo, the saxophonist finally joining with Clegg for a more sprightly reprise of the opening theme.

Fowler’s bass introduces Claret’s “Winter Pace”, which bustles along at a suitably fast clip with some sparkling interplay between Clegg’s trumpet and Eagles’ tenor. Clegg takes the first solo, one of his punchiest of the set, and he’s followed by an expansive outing from Eagles on tenor. Claret delivers a fleet fingered guitar solo before Miazga trades phrases with his colleagues with a series of fiery drum breaks.

The album concludes with a second Tristano homage, Claret’s composition “Get Al In Town”, another piece with a tricky, stop-start bebop inspired theme that features some vigorous group interaction with Miazga’s drums playing a prominent part in the arrangement. Clegg’s muted trumpet solo has an almost vocal quality about it, while Eagles’ tenor solo offers a final reminder as to just how accomplished a player he is in this context, while the composer takes something of a back seat.

Rooted as it is in the virtues of bebop there is nothing particularly startling or ground breaking about “The Collection”. However it does demonstrate the co-leaders’ obvious love of bebop and their absolute mastery of the idiom. As composers they have come up with a set of highly accomplished and hugely enjoyable tunes written in the bebop tradition and the quality of the playing from a very well balanced quintet is exceptional throughout. Credit is also due to recording engineer Greg Dowling who ensures that everybody sounds good, from the front line soloists to the flexible and intelligent rhythm section. The presence of a soloist of Duncan Eagles’ stature is a huge bonus, even if he does threaten to overshadow the co-leaders from time to time. His inclusion in the line up acts as something of a recommendation and should attract some extra listeners to the album.

I thoroughly enjoyed this opening salvo from Claret and Clegg and look forward to hearing more from them in the future. These recorded performances suggest that this quintet would also prove to be a scintillating live act, particularly in an authentic jazz club environment. Let us hope than they get back to this kind of regular gigging before too long.

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