by Ian Mann
March 06, 2019
An impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.
“10 Reasons To ...”
(33Jazz Records 33JAZZ275)
Keyboard player Benjamin Croft began playing piano and trumpet at the age of seven and later studied at Leeds College of Music. Since graduating he has enjoyed a varied musical career working on cruise ships, on TV talent shows and in West End Theatres. He lived in the US for a while and has toured internationally with acts as varied as The Temptations, The Platters, Belinda Carlisle and Lesley Garrett. As a jazz performer he has worked regularly at leading London jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Pheasantry and the Pizza Express in Dean Street and is currently working with saxophonist Andrew McKay’s quartet.
Written over the course of a two year period “10 Reasons To…” is Croft’s début solo recording and pays homage to his artistic heroes over the course of a wide ranging album that embraces elements of jazz, rock and classical music in addition to literature, theatre and cinema. Several of the pieces are dedications to individuals, but I’ll come to these in more detail as I address the twelve individual tracks.
Among others Croft acknowledges the musical influences of Weather Report, Rick Wakeman, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Dizzy Gillespie, which may give the listener an idea of what to expect. Croft’s brand of jazz comes with a substantial and unapologetic side order of prog rock with the leader primarily playing electric keyboards.
Croft takes up the story;
“The sounds and styles on this album reflect the slow processing of all that has captured my imagination since I was a child. I didn’t want this to be a typical acoustic jazz sounding album as my ideas tend to be more orchestral. Instead I wanted the sounds to be a combination of keyboard instruments and I have always had a love of 70s and 80s analogue synths. For example the Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Mellotron all feature on various tracks”.
Croft is joined by the band Triple Echo featuring Benet McLean on violin and Andy Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn. Bass duties are split between Henry Thomas (mainly electric) and Mario Castronari (acoustic) while Tristan Maillot and Saleem Rahman share the drum chair.
The album also features two spoken word cameos from the late actor Peter Miles (1928-2018) and represent his final work. In the 1970s Miles played several roles in episodes of Doctor Who, the series that first inspired Croft’s love of the synthesiser.
“10 Reasons To…” was recorded at sessions in December 2017 and January 2018 at various studios in London and Leeds. The synths were recorded by Andy Whitmore at Greystoke Studios which houses one of the UK’s largest collections of vintage synths. Meanwhile the acoustic Steinway was recorded at Livingston Studio in London with the great Sonny Johns engineering. The album was mixed and mastered at AIR Studios by the veteran engineer Ray Staff. “Ray is a living legend” comments Croft, “and was the chief mastering engineer at Trident Studios during the 70s. His work can be heard on many of the albums that have influenced me over the years”. The overall album was produced by Henry Thomas with Croft assisting.
Turning now to the music itself which commences with the atmospheric, scene setting “100 Years At Sea Introduction”, which features the rounded, RP sounds of Miles declaiming Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The City in the Sea” above a backdrop of appropriate musical sounds generated by the quartet of Croft, McLean, Thomas and Maillot as they approximate the noises of rushing winds, crashing waves, the tolling of a ship’s bell etc. The use of Poe’s words and the overall feel of the piece suggest that my personal prog rock heroes, Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator, may have been an influence on Croft too.
Next up we have “100 Years At Sea” itself with Croft specialising on Rhodes and with McLean’s violin melody lines reminiscent of those that might have been played on a synth or guitar back in the day. At times I’m reminded of some more of my prog heroes, Canterbury style bands such as National Health and Gilgamesh with Croft in the Alan Gowen role. Both McLean and Croft solo to good effect with Thomas on electric bass and Maillot at the drums providing flexible, intelligent support.
The brief but exhilarating “One Million Years At Sea” then features Croft erupting on Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Roland Juno 60 in a thrilling dialogue with Maillot’s thunderous drums, the piece resolving itself with a softer coda as it manages to cram a hell of a lot of information into its one and a half minute duration.
“Bad Reputations” mixes acoustic and electric keyboards with Croft soloing on synthesiser alongside McLean’s violin, the mood of the piece ranging from the soft and reflective to the positively bouncy, with drums and fretless bass rounding out the mix.
Croft dedicates “T.T.E. (Time, Talent and Electricity)” to the late Keith Emerson, the title apparently sourced from a quote by John Peel who once criticised Emerson, Lake & Palmer as being “a waste of time, talent and electricity”. I have to admit that I’m with Peel, I always found E.L.P. far too overblown and bombastic, a condition that also came to infect Yes and Genesis as they became increasingly successful. I always had more time for VDGG, the Canterbury bands, Gentle Giant and King Crimson.
Croft’s piece doesn’t actually sound anything like E.L.P, instead it’s a heartfelt lament featuring Croft on acoustic piano and soloing lyrically alongside Castronari’s melodic double bass and Davies’ soaring Kenny Wheeler like flugelhorn. Saleem Raman provides sensitive and intelligent support from the kit, moving up and down the gears according to the music’s demands.
“The Sycophant” is more obviously ‘proggy’ with Croft soloing on Rhodes and Mini Moog alongside McLean’s violin. Also an accomplished pianist and vocalist McLean first demonstrated his abilities as a violin soloist when guesting with saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ band Partikel. He continues to impress here, drawing on the influence of the likes of Jean Luc Ponty. Both soloists benefit from the buoyant grooves generated by Maillot at the kit and Thomas on electric bass.
“The Whispering Knight” (great title) sees the return of the ‘acoustic’ quartet of Davies, Castronari and Raman, albeit with Croft himself specialising on Rhodes. Davies delivers an impressively agile and fluent trumpet solo. He’s followed by the leader on Rhodes and there’s also something of a feature for the excellent Raman on this agreeably breezy and swinging piece.
Croft dedicates “No Oil For Sale Here” to the memory of Gustav Mahler and features himself on acoustic and electric pianos, plus Mellotron. It’s a stately piece that benefits from the presence of another sumptuous flugel solo by Davies. Despite the classical allusions Croft delivers his own solo on Rhodes as Castronari and Raman offer characteristically excellent support.
“The Legend of Bray” is dedicated to to the memory of actor Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015) and is suitably atmospheric, vaguely unsettling, and ultimately rather beautiful. McLean’s violin takes the lead with Croft featuring on acoustic piano and Juno 60. The leader solos on the Steinway, supported by Thomas’ languid fretless bass and Maillot’s sympathetic brushed accompaniment.
The brief “Inside Immortality” is a second dialogue between Croft on a battery of keyboards and Maillot at the drums. The running time is approximately the same as its companion piece earlier on, but the mood is more restrained, atmospheric and impressionistic.
“See You in Another Lifetime” finds Croft, Thomas and Raman in trio mode with the leader again playing a veritable arsenal of keyboards. Playing both acoustically and electrically Croft conjures a wide variety of colours and textures from his various instruments, soloing effectively on (I think) Mini-Moog. Could the title be a nod to the trail blazing Lifetime band founded by the late great drummer Tony Williams (1945-97)?
The final track, “For Future Past” is dedicated to the memory of that great guitar pioneer Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017). With the leader on Steinway and Rhodes the piece brings together Davies, Thomas and Rahman with the trumpeter again making a fine contribution as he shares the solos with the leader’s Rhodes. Miles returns to read Dylan Thomas’ poem “And Death Shall Have no Dominion”, helping to give this final piece a genuinely epic feel, both the title and the use of spoken words now suggesting the influence of the Moody Blues.
“10 Reasons To…” represents an impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.
On the first listening I’ll admit to finding it a little underwhelming and ‘dated’ with its use of now arcane keyboard instruments, but subsequent hearings allowed me to appreciate more fully the quality of both the writing and the playing, plus the ability of those 70s and 80s synths to produce genuinely interesting sounds.
Yes, it’s unapologetically influenced by prog and fusion and therefore may not appeal to hardcore jazz listeners with a built in pathological hatred of all such things but it’s still an undeniably impressive piece of work that actually embraces a wide variety of musical styles.
Croft himself is at the heart of the music but all the instrumentalists make telling contributions with fellow soloists McLean and Davies inevitably making the biggest impressions. The various rhythm players all excel too while the late Miles’ voice adds drama and gravitas. The engineering and production is also first class, bringing out all the nuances of the writing and playing.
Ultimately “10 Reasons To…” can be recommended to most open minded listeners, although die hard jazz purists and avowed prog rock nay-sayers might choose to keep away.blog comments powered by Disqus