by Ian Mann
September 14, 2020
A very classy piece of work. The quartet perform flawlessly throughout and Neale has absorbed her influences to develop a cool alto sound that is very much her own.
(Ubuntu Music – UBU0062)
Alison Neale – alto saxophone, Peter Bernstein – guitar, Dave Green – double bass, Steve Brown – drums
First, an admission.
Before receiving the press release for this album I’d always assumed that alto saxophonist Allison Neale was a British born musician. However it transpires that she originally hails from Seattle and has been significantly influenced by the melodic sounds of ‘West Coast’ jazz, as typified by fellow alto players Paul Desmond and Art Pepper.
Neale’s family later moved to the UK and she was brought up in Northamptonshire. She has since worked extensively with British jazz musicians, including a long association with guitarist Dave Cliff. Other British musicians with whom she has worked include pianists Leon Greening , bassist Dominic Howles, vibraphonist Nat Steele and this album’s rhythm team of bassist Dave Green and drummer Steve Brown. She also leads a quartet featuring pianist Alex Bryson, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Matt Fishwick.
Neale is also a skilled flautist and specialised on the flute on Howles’ 2015 recording “Bristolian Thoroughfare”. Review here;
Neale has also been a member of John and Alec Dankworth’s Generations Big Band and of Two of a Mind, a quintet that she leads with baritone saxophonist Chris Biscoe and which pays homage to the musical partnership of Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan. Two of a Mind also features guitarist Colin Oxley, bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Stu Butterfield.
Guest contributor Trevor Bannister’s account of a 2017 live performance by Two of a Mind at the Progress Theatre in Reading can be viewed here;
American artists with whom Neale has collaborated include trumpeter Gary Kavanagh, tenor saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Grant Stewart, fellow alto player Bud Shank, pianist Michael Weiss and former Duke Ellington vocalist Adelaide Hall.
“Quietly There” is Neale’s fifth album and follows “Melody Express” (2004, recorded with Cliff, bassist Simon Thorpe and drummer Matt Skelton), “Blue Concept” (2009, a Gig Gryce tribute recorded with Kavanagh), “I Wished On The Moon” (2015,with Greening and Steele) and the Two of a Mind album “Then and Now”.
“Quietly There” introduces a new Anglo-American quartet with the long established British rhythm team of Green and Brown joined by the American guitarist Peter Bernstein, a musician best known to jazz audiences for his work with a collaborative trio featuring organist Larry Goldings and drummer Bill Stewart.
It’s the same instrumental configuration that featured on Neale’s début as the saxophonist explains in her album notes;
“I have always enjoyed the space and openness that playing with guitar allows. With this album I wanted to revisit this musical setting, and the opportunity to have Peter Bernstein on the recording is one I could not pass up”.
She praises Bernstein’s contribution to the album saying;
“One of the great guitarists in jazz, Peter is able to fit into any musical situation. He has a deep knowledge of the music and is able to express this through his own unique musical voice. In Peter’s playing I often hear similar qualities to the ones I admire so much in the recordings of my musical influences and therefore hoped we would have a good musical rapport. He has a truly unique voice whilst staying faithful to the jazz tradition. The same can be said of Dave Green and Steve Brown, two musicians that I have always had great respect for. They both have their own strong identity in the music and a double dose of humility between them”.
The programme is entirely standards based with Neale saying this about her chosen material;
“Included on the album are tunes I have long wanted to record, many from the American Songbook, although you don’t hear them too often. Also included are tunes by Jimmy Raney and Horace Silver, which allow the group to stretch out a little. I have always thought of my playing as an extension of the human voice and have always tried to play in a lyrical and melodic style, staying true to those early influences of mine. I believe that the music on this album is a complete reflection of where I am as an artist today. Quiet, understated and with the flavour of my influences”.
The quartet commence with a waltz time arrangement of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Darn That Dream”, which immediately demonstrates the feathery fluency of Neale’s flawless alto. Bernstein contributes a suitably tasteful excursion that combines purity of tone with a rich melodic and harmonic inventiveness. Often described as a “Rolls-Royce of a rhythm section” Green and Brown have worked together frequently and provide understated, subtly swinging support with Brown inserting an engaging wealth of percussive detail into his playing. Green also features as a soloist, his brief period in the spotlight combining an admirable concision with a strong melodic sensibility, an always underlying sense of swing and an understated dexterity.
Brown switches to brushes for the Lionel Hampton / Sonny Burke tune “Midnight Sun”, delivered here as a gorgeous ballad with Neale and Bernstein combining effectively as well as delivering delightfully lyrical solos. Bernstein’s subtle but inventive comping behind Neale’s solos is a delight and his own soloing is richly imaginative. Green also emerges as a soloist, combining a deeply resonant tone with the virtues of melody, swing and dexterity.
The quartet up the energy levels for Horace Silver’s “Split Kick”, negotiating the boppish and latin-esque twists and turns of the piece with an insouciant ease, while also, in Neale’s own words allowing the group to “stretch out a little”. Neale and Bernstein deliver lissom, highly inventive solos while Green and Brown provide suitably crisp and propulsive rhythmic accompaniment, with Green again featuring as a soloist.
The album is named for Johnny Mandel’s tune “Quietly There”, delivered here in a relaxed bossa style arrangement with Brown’s catchy rhythmic inflections helping to inspire laid back but subtly breezy solos from Neale and Bernstein.
A short passage of unaccompanied guitar ushers in the standard “I’m Glad There Is You”
(J. Dorsey/P. Madeira), another piece that demonstrates Neale’s abilities as an interpreter of a ballad. Bernstein’s solo remains true to the mood of the piece, but also exhibits an impressive level of musical sophistication. Green and Brown supply sensitive, understated support, with the drummer deploying brushes.
Jimmy Raney’s composition “Motion” sees the group ‘stretching out’ once more in briskly energetic fashion. Neale delivers some of her liveliest playing of the set, but retains her essential fluency and purity of tone. Meanwhile Bernstein’s solo is lithe and inventive, combining slippery single note lines with imaginative chording. Green and Brown add a bouncy, swinging groove and the latter clearly relishes the opportunity of trading fours with Bernstein as he delivers a series of effervescent drum breaks.
The Rodgers and Hart song “Spring Is Here” represents another classy offering, with the gently exploratory solos of Neale and Bernstein complemented by the rich, supportive tones of Green’s bass and Brown’s pleasingly nimble brush and stick work. Likewise the Tony Velona song “Lollipops and Roses”.
Unaccompanied saxophone introduces John Lewis’ “2 Degrees East 3 Degrees East”, but the first solo here goes to the masterful Green, who ‘stretches out’ with great poise and authority. Elsewhere Green and Brown provide a briskly propulsive groove that offers Neale the opportunity to take flight on alto, with Bernstein following in her slipstream on guitar. A further highlight of this performance is the lively but elegant duet between Neale and Bernstein as the rhythm section briefly drops out.
Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” is also approached in a lively, boppish style with joyous solos from Neale and Bernstein allied to another brisk bass and drum groove. Deep in the mix Bernstein can be heard singing along with his solo, something that continues into a good natured series of exchanges with the leader’s alto.
The album concludes with an intimate Neale / Bernstein duet on the standard “I Should Care” (A. Stordahl/ P. Weston. This is a beautiful performance that epitomises the rapport established by the two musicians and represents a delightful way to round off a highly accomplished and inherently classy album.
“Quietly There” has garnered almost universally positive reviews and is an unashamedly mainstream album that will appeal to a wide cross section of mainly older jazz fans.
I have to admit that it’s perhaps almost too tasteful and understated for my personal tastes and that I would have preferred a bit more grit and roughage here and there. For me the highlights are the Horace Silver, Jimmy Raney and John Lewis tunes, which leave behind the predominately songbook repertoire whilst simultaneously upping the energy levels and allowing the players more room to ‘stretch out’ - but that’s very much a personal view.
This is a very classy piece of work and I fully understand its appeal to the still very substantial audience of mainstream jazz listeners. The quartet perform flawlessly throughout and Neale has absorbed her influences to develop a cool alto sound that is very much her own, and a cool and intelligent approach that has become something of a rarity in the current musical climate.
blog comments powered by Disqus