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Betty Accorsi Quartet

Growing Roots

by Ian Mann

July 18, 2022


Accorsi continues to prove that she is an ambitious and intelligent composer and an excellent instrumentalist. Definitely a talent deserving of wider recognition.

Betty Accorsi Quartet

“Growing Roots”

(Self Released)

Betty Accorsi – soprano saxophone, vocals, Daniel Hewson – piano, Andy Hamill – electric & acoustic bass, Scott MacDonald - drums

“Growing Roots” is the second album from the Italian born, UK based saxophonist and composer Elisabetta ‘Betty’ Accorsi.

Originally from Milan she studied classical saxophone at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatoire in her native city but also found time to play other styles of music, among them folk, prog rock, and, of course, jazz.

It was her passion for the latter to brought her to London to study jazz saxophone at Trinity Laban under the tutelage of Mick Foster and Paul Bartholomew. She subsequently mastered in jazz saxophone plus composition and arrangement at Goldsmith’s.

Comprised mainly of former Goldsmith’s students Accorsi formed her quartet as an outlet for her compositions. In 2020 she released her début album “The Cutty Sark Suite”, which was financed by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.

The suite was inspired by Accorsi’s years of living in Greenwich and by the local landmark the Cutty Sark, a nineteenth century Scottish built tea clipper that was the fastest ocean going vessel of her day.

“The Cutty Sark Suite” consisted of four movements, each one representing a country to which the vessel had sailed – China, Indonesia, South Africa and England. It demonstrated Accorsi’s considerable abilities as both a player and composer and received a very positive critical reception, including a highly favourable four star review from The Jazzmann which can be found here;

Accorsi’s writing is frequently inspired by geographical locations and a sense of place. “Growing Roots” is inspired by her move to Brighton, a city that she has clearly grown to love.

Her album liner notes explain the inspiration behind the new record;
“This album is how I chose to describe my first year in Brighton. I moved there after almost three years of living in London and it truly changed my life. I was humbled by the sheer natural beauty all around me, the music and the life. All of this healed me and it made me a different (and, I hope, a better) person and musician. Therefore I decided to take photos of my six favourite places in Brighton and nearby to thank this city for the wonderful year together”.

Accorsi’s photographs adorn the album packaging and also give titles to the six pieces of music, which are this time described as “original songs” rather than “movements”. Two pieces feature Accorsi’s voice and lyrics, in addition to her saxophone playing. “I took pictures of my six favourite places in Brighton and the surrounding areas and I wrote a song for each picture”, she explains.

Bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Scott MacDonald both appeared on “The Cutty Sark Suite” but there is a change in the piano chair with Daniel Hewson replacing Finn Carter.

The album press release also offers further insights into the inspirations behind the individual pieces, beginning with the opening track “Ampollo”. Accorsi explains;
“Ampollo is inspired by a stained glass window in the Royal Pavilion. It reminded me of the Italian word ‘ampolloso’, which means ornate and bombastic. I chose a round, complex double bass sound to represent this concept”.
Indeed it’s bassist Hamill, the most experienced member of the group, who introduces the piece, with his bass motif later joined by Hewson’s piano, then MacDonald’s drums, and eventually the leader’s soprano sax. Borrowing from both jazz and classical music Accorsi’s writing is episodic and richly detailed, particularly within the quartet format. Despite the ‘ornate’ and ‘bombastic’ references “Ampollo” is actually surprisingly melodic and lyrical with gently probing solos from Accorsi on soprano and the impressive Hewson at the piano, although some of those qualities do emerge as the solos evolve. There’s also an extended drum feature from MacDonald, the growing power perhaps illustrating the ‘bombastic’ element. The piece then resolves itself with a gentle and lyrical coda.

“Looking At The Horizon” is inspired by a picture of the Brighton shoreline, including the striking image of the remains of the burned out pier. Compositionally the piece takes inspiration from an early edition of the Pat Metheny Group (the Metheny, Mays, Egan, Gottlieb line up), “I find that their music looks at the horizon and guides your ears towards infinity”, remarks Accorsi.
I’m not at all surprised that Accorsi names Metheny and Mays as compositional influences, her writing has something of the same episodic / cinematic quality. Introduced by MacDonald at the drums there’s an essential joyousness about this piece, which again features the leader on her favoured soprano. Hamill switches to electric bass to deliver a Mark Egan inspired solo. He’s followed by a sparkling piano solo from Hewson, perhaps channelling the spirit of the late Lyle Mays. Accorso then returns to dance airily on soprano above an increasingly lively rhythmic backdrop. The closing stages feature another feature for the excellent MacDonald.

The ballad “Like A Tree” draws inspiration from a leafy street in Brighton and musical influence from the ‘Great American Songbook’. Accorsi dedicates it to her partner Andrea Martelloni, who carries out engineering duties on this album, as he did for “The Cutty Sark Suite”. Martelloni is also an accomplished acoustic guitarist and he and Accorsi work together as a duo under the group name Sloth In The City and released their EP, “Remember Music”, in 2021.
The performance features Accorsi’s vocals, delivered in accented English. I’d hazard that she’s not a trained singer, but her naive vocals are delivered with sincerity and in a style that is well suited to her music.  The lyrics include the “growing roots” metaphor that gives the album its title. She also features on gently lyrical soprano sax,  while Hewson delivers a more expansive solo on piano. Hamill and MacDonald offer sensitive support throughout, the latter mainly deploying brushes.

“King Arthur Walks In Rottingdean” takes its name from the historic village near Brighton, with Accorsi imagining King Arthur walking in the woods there. Musically the piece takes inspiration from traditional English folk music, and particularly the way in which the great saxophonist and composer John Surman incorporated it into jazz.
The piece begins with a passage of unaccompanied soprano saxophone playing a folk inspired melody. Hewson briefly takes over at the piano before Accorsi returns on soprano to play a medieval style melody, accompanied by bass and a ‘tabor like’ drum rhythm. Hewson takes over to solo at the piano. Accorsi then returns to solo more expansively as the music gradually gathers momentum. There’s also a melodic double bass solo from the excellent Hamill before the quartet bring the piece to its conclusion.

“Lively House” takes its title from the Prince Albert pub in Brighton, a music pub with a spectacular mural that Accorsi describes as representing “the vivacity of Brighton and its culture”.  Musically the piece takes inspiration from Accorsi’s favourite band, Weather Report. Hamill ushers things in on electric bass and there’s a subtly funky undertow to Accorsi’s lithe soprano sax explorations. Hewson solos on electric piano and there’s also a feature for drummer MacDonald. There’s a suitably celebratory feel about the entire performance, the vivacity of which Accorsi speaks is very much in evidence.

The album concludes with “Blue Wave”, inspired by Brighton’s stony seafront with Accorsi “looking at the motions of the water and the elements and the raw freedom that I find in them”.
It’s another piece that progresses through a series of phrases, beginning with an atmospheric ‘free jazz’ style intro, followed by a more incantatory passage, at first just featuring soprano sax and piano, but later fuelled by a powerful drum groove and Hamill’s remarkable electric bass explorations. A quieter sung passage finds Accorsi paying homage to Bjork, one of her musical heroines, the lyrics addressing the healing power of nature and the elements. A graceful passage featuring Accorsi’s soaring soprano sax and Hewson’s flowing, expansive piano lyricism provides the link to a reprise of the vocal section, but this time with the lyrics delivered in more upbeat fashion.

Like its predecessor “Growing Roots” is relatively short by modern CD standards but it packs a lot into its forty four or so minutes. Accorsi continues to prove that she is an ambitious and intelligent composer. She may acknowledge her sources of inspiration but she is no copyist and is a writer with plenty to say on her own account. Once again the album casts its stylistic net wide with jazz, folk, funk and classical music among the influences and there’s again the sense that each composition is a story complete within itself, but still fits in perfectly with the overall concept.

The playing is excellent throughout and Accorsi’s vocals also work well within the context of the work. But it’s as an instrumentalist and composer that she really excels. Definitely a talent deserving of wider recognition.

“Growing Roots” is available from Accorsi’s Bandcamp page which can be reached via her website




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