by Ian Mann
July 13, 2022
There’s some terrific playing throughout “Tortugas” as Allard and Stanley remind us of just why they are regarded as being two of the best musicians in the business.
Chris Allard & Ross Stanley
Chris Allard – guitars, Ross Stanley – piano
Guitarist Chris Allard and pianist / organist Ross Stanley are two of the UK’s most respected sidemen, bringing their talents to a wide variety of musical genres but with their roots very much in jazz.
The pair met at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2020 and have been friends and collaborators ever since. They worked together on Allard’s 2010 quintet album “Open Spaces” (review here https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/chris-allard-band-open-spaces).
More recently they appeared together in the album “Hoop” by the Secret Sessions group led by saxophonist Paul Booth. Review here;
Allard and Stanley have also been members of the band of Palestinian singer Omar Kamal, appearing on the album “Show Me The Light”.
In a jazz context Allard has worked regularly with members of the Dankworth family and also with vocalist Sarah Ellen Hughes, trumpeter Steve Waterman and bassist Ben Crosland. He has also appeared with singer Lea Salonga, actress / vocalist Sheridan Smith, opera singer Russell Watson and the vocal ensemble Il Divo.
Stanley is arguably Britain’s most in demand Hammond organist and is also a supremely accomplished pianist. He is an incredibly versatile musician who has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on many occasions playing either organ or piano as a member of bands led by guitarists Nigel Price, Phil Robson, Matt Chandler and Mark McKnight saxophonists Trish Clowes, Brandon Allen, Vasilis Xenopoulos, Ed Jones, Tom Challenger, Seamus Blake and Alex Garnett, trombonist Dennis Rollins, flautist Gareth Lockrane, drummers Dave Storey and Dylan Howe, bassists Dominic Howles, Tim Thornton and Michael Janisch and vocalist Sara Mitra. He has also been a member of the bands Bannau Trio and Examples Of Twelves. The 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival even saw him leading his own trio, a one off collaboration with bassist Erika Lyons and drummer Steve Brown.
All these names are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Stanley’s jazz CV is concerned, there are literally dozens of others. Then there’s his work at the more ‘commercial’ end of the music spectrum including collaborations with ex Yes guitarist Steve Howe, membership of ex Average White Band guitarist/vocalist Hamish Stuart’s regular working group and touring engagements with Steve Winwood, Sir Tom Jones, Maceo Parker, Rebecca Ferguson, Paloma Faith and more. He has featured on recordings by Michael Buble, Goldie, US3, Ghost Poet and Simply Red among others and is the Musical Director for Alfie Boe.
The wide ranging musical experiences of both Allard and Stanley feeds into “Tortugas”, an intimate recording that represents the pair’s first album in the duo format. The ten tracks offer a combination of outside material sourced from a wide range of jazz genres plus four pieces from the pen of Allard, who had previously shown himself to be a composer of some ability with his writing for the “Open Spaces” album. That album concluded with the guitar/piano duet “Arequipa”, which may have been the initial seed for this project.
The new duo recording commences with an arrangement of “Fellini’s Waltz” by the celebrated Italian pianist and composer Enrico Pieranunzi. It introduces Allard’s crystal clear guitar sound and his fluent improvisations are underscored by Stanley’s vibrantly rhythmic piano chording. Stanley specialises on acoustic piano throughout the album (no Hammond) and he also grabs his chance to shine later on in the tune. The duo’s rapport is immediately obvious as they effortlessly move from melodic to rhythmic duties during the course of any given composition, never getting in one another’s way.
Cole Porter’s “Use Your Imagination” is the first of the jazz standards and finds the musicians adopting a more conventionally ‘jazz’ sound, particularly Allard on guitar with some sophisticated jazz chording and some slippery bebop inspired melody lines. Stanley responds in kind at the piano, again sparkling during the course of his solo.
The duo seem to have a particular affinity for waltzes. Allard’s own “Waltz For Libby”, the title clearly a Bill Evans homage, appeared in a band arrangement on “Open Spaces”. This duo version features Allard playing a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, but is primarily acoustic with the electric largely being used as a textural device. The spaciousness and general timbre of Allard’s acoustic playing sometimes reminds me of Ralph Towner. Stanley generally retains a low profile, before eventually adding a dash of flowing piano lyricism in the latter stages of the tune.
“Jive Coffee” was written by the contemporary American guitarist and composer Peter Bernstein, who I’d guess is probably a hero for Allard much as Bernstein’s frequent collaborator, Hammond organ specialist Larry Goldings, is for Stanley.
Bernstein’s tune is simultaneously laid back and relaxed but rhythmically vibrant, a well named piece that offers a neat musical depiction of New York café culture as the duo skilfully swap the roles of soloist and accompanist, the baton changing hands on numerous occasions during the course of a sparkling duo performance.
Allard’s own “Critter” introduces something of a flamenco feel, albeit on electric guitar. It’s a highly melodic and very attractive composition that features some great playing from the composer, this eliciting a similarly inspired response from Stanley.
Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep For Me” is given a surprisingly vibrant and rhythmic treatment, with Allard’s guitar playing also incorporating a surprisingly bluesy edge. That blues element also informs Stanley’s solo. This is a terrific duo performance, with the protagonists really sounding as if they’re having fun, particularly on a series of delightfully bluesy exchanges towards the close.
Allard’s title track is a more complex, episodic offering that progresses through a series of distinct phases. It’s not made clear what the composition is named for, but it’s a thoughtful piece of writing that demonstrates Allard’s considerable abilities as a composer as it embraces a variety of moods and styles over the course of its seven and a half minute duration.
“See The Pyramid” was written by the American saxophonist Walt Weiskopf and features some dazzling arpeggiated playing from both musicians, alongside some slippery melody lines. Stanley’s lively piano solo introduces a more conventional jazz feel, which is maintained as the track gathers momentum via a series of dazzling piano and guitar exchanges.
An arrangement of Tom Jobim’s “Luiza” brings a relaxed, Brazilian feel to the proceedings, the solos expansive and unhurried and imbued with a pleasing hint of bluesiness.
The album concludes with Allard’s “Grand Lament”, a gracefully lyrical composition enhanced by the skilled and thoughtful playing of both musicians.
There’s some terrific playing throughout “Tortugas” as Allard and Stanley remind us of just why they are regarded as being two of the best musicians in the business. Unfortunately the intimate nature of the recording means that it’s the kind of album that it is likely to slip under the radar, which is a pity. Allard and Stanley are far too talented to be ignored, despite the fact that each is consistently busy elsewhere. Hopefully listeners who have enjoyed this duo’s playing in the bands of others will be encouraged to give “Tortugas” a go. You won’t regret it.
Finally I’d love to see a live performance of this material, with Stanley given access to a ‘proper’ grand piano.
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