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Chris Allard Band

Melodic Collective

by Ian Mann

July 16, 2023


A work that Allard and the band can be justly proud of. The writing is both intelligent and accessible and the playing excellent throughout.

Chris Allard

“Melodic Collective”

(Perdido Music)

Chris Allard – guitar, Robbie Robson – trumpet, John Turville – piano, Oli Hayhurst – double bass, Will Glaser – drums

Melodic Collective is a new, all star quintet formed by guitarist and composer Chris Allard.

Allard is a versatile guitarist who has played with a wide range of names across the jazz spectrum including vocalists Jamie Cullum, Gwyneth Herbert and Carleen Anderson, saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, pianists Michael Garrick and Julian Joseph and all of the Dankworth family (John, Cleo, Alec and Jacqui).

More recently he has worked 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, Palestinian singer Omar Kamal   and the vocal ensemble Il Divo. 

Allard’s playing first came to my attention in 2010 with the release of the quintet album “Open Spaces”, the band including Melodic Collective member Oli Hayhurst on bass, alongside saxophonist Brandon Allen, keyboard player Ross Stanley and drummer Nick Smalley. Review here;

Allard and Stanley have worked frequently together and both appeared on the album “Hoop”, a 2021 recording by the Secret Sessions group led by saxophonist Paul Booth. Review here;

In 2022 Allard and Stanley released the intimate duo album “Tortugas”, a guitar and piano recording that featured Allard’s original compositions alongside a pleasingly eclectic mix of outside material. Review here;

Melodic Collective brings together five of the UK’s most in demand jazz musicians, the majority of them bandleaders in their own right. Although the quintet is nominally under Allard’s leadership it’s perhaps most appropriate to focus on the ‘Collective’ aspect of the band name as the compositional credits are shared around the group.

The album is Allard’s third for Perdido Music, the label run by vocalist, songwriter and keyboard player Charlie Wood, husband of Jacqui Dankworth and a musician with whom Allard has also played.

As might be expected the music places a strong focus on melody, but colour, texture and atmosphere are also important. This becomes apparent on the album opener, Allard’s episodic composition “Ocean Mirage”. An evocative introductory passage features cymbal shimmers, elongated trumpet melody lines and crystalline guitar and piano, all suggestive of the ‘mirage’ of the title. Hayhurst’s bass motif then signals a more upbeat passage, with a more solid rhythmic groove, but with the music still rooted in melody, with Allard and Robson combining effectively on the main theme before handing over to Turville, who takes the first solo on piano. As one of the UK’s most inventive piano soloists Turville relishes the opportunity to stretch out, and does so lyrically and expansively. He’s followed by Allard, whose solo is crisp and incisive, combining great virtuosity with an innate sense of form and melody. The main theme then returns to complete this very successful album opener.

Robson takes up the compositional reins for “Tridence”, which is introduced by Hayhurst at the bass. There’s something of a Latin feel to the music with the composer’s trumpet taking a more prominent role as he shares the solos with Turville at the piano. This is an upbeat and joyous offering, driven along by Glaser’s colourful drumming and ending as it began with the sound of Hayhurst’s bass.

Allard’s “Erin” combines strong melodies with complex rhythms and includes solos from the composer on guitar and Turville at the piano. Elsewhere the interplay between these two is consistently impressive; Allard clearly relishes working with pianists, as evidenced by his previous duo recording with Stanley.

Hayhurst’s first contribution with the pen is “Snake Steak”, a composition whose regular grooves acts as the platform for fluent solos from Allard on guitar and Robson on trumpet.

Allard’s “Driving Home” is the lengthiest cut on the album and there’s the sense of being taken on a musical journey via some excellent guitar / trumpet interplay and subsequent solos from Allard and Turville, plus something of a drum feature for the excellent Glaser.

The title of Hayhurst’s “See you in Spuyten Duyvil” refers to a neighbourhood in the Bronx in New York City, the name a reminder of New York’s Dutch origins. Introduced by Glaser’s drums it’s a fast moving piece with an appropriately urban and urgent feel, with Robson’s darting trumpet melodies to the fore and with the rhythm section driving things along at a fast clip. Robson takes the first solo, his lithe offering followed by a torrential outpouring from Turville at the piano and a further drum feature from Glaser.

Following the hustle and bustle of Hayhurst’s piece comes the chilled out spaciousness of “Time is no Fool”, jointly written by Allard and Jacqui Dankworth. The latter’s involvement makes one speculate as to whether this is a piece that was originally written with words. Allard deploys his guitar effects subtly and judiciously on this atmospheric composition, which is ballad like in feel. There’s a beautifully melodic double bass solo from Hayhurst and a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Turville.

The pianist’s contribution with the pen is “Study in Thirds”, a warm and delightfully melodic piece that belies the rather academic title. Hayhurst is again featured as a soloist, as are Allard and Turville himself, with another exceptional pianistic excursion.

“Melodic Collective” is a tune title as well as a band name and its Allard’s title track that rounds off the album. All of the group’s virtues are here as strong melodies meet adventurous harmonies and rhythms. As throughout the album the level of rapport between the musicians is excellent and the instrumental interplay highly skilled and totally engrossing to the listener. The piece includes individual features for Robson on trumpet, Turville on piano and Allard on guitar, who engages closely with Glaser at the drums.

As an album “Melodic Collective” is a work that Allard and the band can be justly proud of. The writing is both intelligent and accessible and the playing excellent throughout. The five instrumentalists combine superbly and there’s real subtlety and depth about the arrangements, which are rich in terms of both colour and texture and harmony and rhythm, with something of interest always going on. The quasi-orchestral approach sometimes makes it sound like the work of more than five people. The focus on both melody and fine detail sometimes reminds me of the music of Pat Metheny, but as a guitarist Allard sounds very different and has very much forged his own style, one that draws upon both jazz and rock. Nevertheless Metheny’s many fans are likely to find much to enjoy about Allard’s approach and are almost certain to appreciate this excellent recording. Let’s hope that Allard gets the opportunity to take the Melodic Collective out on the road, I’d love to see a live performance from this stellar quintet.

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