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Alec Dankworth

Spanish Accents


by Ian Mann

September 02, 2008


Spanish tinged jazz full of colourful and imaginative arrangements plus sparkling playing from all concerned. A triumph for Dankworth and his highly talented team.

Bassist Alec Dankworth is one of the stalwarts of the British jazz scene. Although appearing on literally dozens of albums he has rarely recorded as a leader which makes the appearance of this album all the more welcome.

Dankworth’s fascination with all things Spanish was the inspiration for this wide ranging collection. He explores the folk music of the country and also looks at the influence of Spanish music on jazz composers such as Chick Corea and Dizzy Gillespie.

Dankworth has recruited an all star band for this project. Saxophonist Julian Arguelles, violinist Christian Garrick and guitarist Phil Robson are among the UK’s most versatile players on their respective instruments. All three of them are a joy to hear in any context and they all shine here.
They form the core of the band alongside Dankworth and Spanish drummer/percussionist Marc Miralta who adds a real flavour of authenticity to the proceedings.

Several pieces are enlivened by the bagpipes of French born Jean-Pierre Rasle. The pipes are a popular folk instrument in Spain, particularly in the region of Galicia. Their distinctive drone adds to the drama of any music and although Rasle is used sparingly his contributions are highly effective.

The album is also something of a family affair with Dankworth’s daughter Emily adding vocals to two traditional folk songs and his mother Cleo Laine singing on the closing “Dreams Of Castilla”.

Although only recently released the album was actually recorded at the end of 2005. The Jazzmann was lucky enough to get a preview in the form of a gig organised by Jazz Coventry as part of the 2007 Coventry Jazz Festival and reviewed elsewhere on this site. This featured the core group with Mark Lockheart coming in on saxes in place of Arguelles, a pretty impressive “dep” in anyone’s language.

The album kicks off with “Palmas”, Dankworth’s exploration of the Bulerias flamenco rhythm. Miralta’s distinctive handclaps and percussion give an authentic feel and there are solos from Dankworth, Robson and Arguelles.. The guitarist is best known for his slippery bebop lines or full on rock attack with Partisans but here he plays acoustic, Spanish style guitar with customary brilliance and demonstrates what a fine all round player he is. Arguelles too, sounds wonderful, always melodic and full of ideas whatever the context.

The skirl of Rasle’s pipes opens the traditional “Los Cuatro Muleros” with Emily Dankworth’s pure, almost childlike voice featuring on the stirring folk melody. Miralta adds atmospheric percussive effects.

“La Calma” is a brief passage for solo bass that is the calm before the storm of “El Levante”, named after the gale force winds that blow through the straits of Gibraltar. Although credited to Dankworth this too has a folk feel with Garrick’s mournful violin to the fore. It is less violent than the title might suggest but still haunting and effective.

Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” is a familiar piece but is given a fresh lease of life by Dankworth’s arrangement and by the sparkling playing of Arguelles, Robson and Miralta. The drummer features here but is outstanding throughout the album weaving authentic Spanish rhythms, colours and textures in and out of the music in a captivating display of technically dazzling but wonderfully sympathetic accompaniment.

Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, famously adapted by Gil Evans and Miles Davis is another piece that is in danger of becoming over familiar. However another characteristically imaginative and atmospheric arrangement by Dankworth even coaxes fresh life from this and manages to hold the listeners attention, helped greatly by more fine playing from Arguelles and Robson.

Another arrangement of a traditional tune, “Cantos” serves as a vehicle for Rasle’s pipes in tandem with the leader’s opening bass statement and Robson’s inspired acoustic guitar picking.

Remaining with the traditional material the Sephardic folk song “Yo Me Enamore De Un Aire” is another feature for Emily Dankworth’s clear, precise vocals (again delivered in Spanish), and Arguelles’ subtle saxophone variations.

A gently swinging take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” combines Arguelles’ breathy tenor with the relaxed sound of Garrick’s violin.

The Pat Metheny composition “Tears Of Rain” (originally recorded on the Burton/Metheny/Corea/Haynes/Holland album “Like Minds”) is given the ballad treatment with a Spanish tinge. Robson does a more than acceptable Metheny impersonation and Arguelles simply excels, as usual.

Jack De Johnette’s “Salsa For Eddie G.” is a dedication to Dankworth’s fellow bassist the great Eddie Gomez. Appropriately centred around Dankworth’s bass pulse and Miralta’s busy, propulsive drumming it contains strong solo statements from Robson, Garrick and Dankworth himself plus a feature for Miralta. Exhilarating stuff.

Finally Dame Cleo Laine sings her own (English) lyrics to “Dreams Of Castilla”, co-written with Alan Clare. Laine’s smoky voice adds gravitas to the sultriness of the arrangement and Dankworth delivers a typically assured and lyrical solo. Arguelles’ contributions on soprano are also a delight. It all makes for a fittingly stately conclusion to an album of excellent music.

The seeds for this album were sown by the 2003 trio recording “If You’re Passing By” featuring Dankworth as leader alongside Robson and Arguelles. All three excel throughout “Spanish Accents” but the contributions of everybody involved are exemplary, right down to the wonderfully pristine sound quality, courtesy of producer Anna Tjan and engineers Philip Bagenal and Chris Lewis.

Dankworth’s playing is immaculate both as masterful accompanist and literate soloist but his real triumph is in the arrangements, careful, colourful and imaginative with the textures beautifully stitched together. “Spanish Accents” is clearly a labour of love and the results are a triumph for Dankworth and his hugely talented team.

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