by Ian Mann
September 23, 2022
Sear demonstrates an admirable fluency and agility as a trombone soloist and he also impresses in his role as a composer, arranger and bandleader.
“I Always Thought My Thoughts Were Me”
Ubuntu Music – UBU0118)
Dave Sear – trombone, Percy Pursglove – trumpet, Elliott Sansom – piano, James Owston – double bass, Jim Bashford – drums
Born in Luton Dave Sear is a Birmingham based trombonist and composer who graduated from the Jazz Course at the city’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2016, where his tutors included many well known musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them Percy Pursglove who plays trumpet on this recording. Sear also studied at the Englesholm Winter Jazz Camp in Denmark.
Sear is now a professional musician who has appeared at many prestigious venues and festivals and who now also reaches jazz trombone at his ‘alma mater’ the RBC. In addition to leading his quintet he is also a member of the Heavy Beat Brass Band and of the party band Diddy Sweg. He has recorded regularly with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra as well as appearing as a sideman on numerous albums by other Midlands based jazz artists.
“I Always Thought My Thoughts Were Me” represents Sear’s début album as a leader and features an all star Birmingham based band that includes Pursglove, pianist Elliott Sansom, bassist James Owston and drummer Jim Bashford, all of them bandleaders in their own right.
The album repertoire includes five original compositions by Sear plus the trombonist’s own arrangements of “In Your Own Sweet Way” by pianist Dave Brubeck and “Inner Urge” by saxophonist Joe Henderson. Given the relative youthfulness of the line up the group sound is rather more mainstream than I was expecting but the album is none the worse for that. Sear demonstrates an admirable fluency and agility as a trombone soloist and he also impresses in his role as a composer, arranger and bandleader. He receives excellent support from some of the most accomplished players on the Birmingham jazz scene, all musicians with a national reputation.
The album takes its title from Sear’s struggles with his mental health, as he explains in his remarkably candid liner notes;
“I’ve always struggled to get my head around my own mental health and I have lived for as long as I can remember with OCD and anxiety. The music on this album is about living with these issues on a day to day basis, which is something that I know I share with a huge number of people. Music, especially Jazz music in the later stages of my life, has been an everlasting friend and continual support, which I am thoroughly grateful for. I’m not great with words and seem to speak the most sense through the trombone, so this album is my acknowledgement of appreciation and respect to the music, to all my family and friends, and to everyone who’s taking the time to listen to me”.
In the press release accompanying this recording he offers further insights into the making of the album;
“During the Covid lockdown period I had a lot more time to think, and overthink, and it really dawned on me that so many people struggle with the same issues as me, even though I used to think my thoughts were ‘normal’. Jazz music has been a great friend and a continual support throughout the last decade of my life and I wanted to recognise that in the music. I reflect on the harder aspect of living with these issues, as well as the positive, embracing good times and thanking many of the people and places that have been of significant help throughout.”
Of his colleagues he remarks;
“I had this quintet in mind when writing the music. I feel extremely grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to play and record with them all”.
The album commences with the attention grabbing “Reservoir Retreat”, a high energy group performance that skilfully blends conventional jazz and bebop virtues with more contemporary ideas. It quickly establishes Sear as a musician with a highly impressive technique on his chosen instrument, and as a powerful and fluent soloist. These qualities are also true of Sansom and Pursglove, both of whom feature strongly with barnstorming solos of their own. Bassist Owston, perhaps best known for his work with saxophonist Xhosa Cole, is a forceful and propulsive presence throughout, linking up superbly with the hard driving but neatly detailed drumming of Jim Bashford. Sear’s solo includes a passage featuring just trombone and bass while Bashford enjoys a series of dynamic drum fills.
The title track is slightly less frenetic but still swings convincingly, again skilfully blending the old and the new. The opening passage features a beguiling blend of trombone and trumpet as the rhythm section impart a steady, swinging momentum. Pursglove’s bravado trumpet solo finds him engaged in fiery, fluid dialogue with drummer Bashford, Pursglove’s trumpet reaching for the stars, underpinned by the drummer’s polyrhythmic flow. The quintet then reel things back in again with a swinging ensemble passage, from which the leader eventually emerges to deliver a trombone solo above the crisp and swinging rhythms. He’s followed by the excellent Sansom before the quintet take things swinging out with another ensemble passage featuring the impressive playing of the trombone / trumpet front line, sometimes sounding like more than a mere two players.
Introduced by Owston’s bass “Eyes That Speak A Thousand Words” reflects a more contemplative side of the band, a rubato ballad featuring the meditative playing of the two horns above an atmospheric backdrop featuring mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. The piece becomes increasingly dramatic as it progresses, before gradually subsiding once more. Again the interplay between Sear and his former mentor Pursglove is impressive, with Sansom’s playing eventually coming into focus towards the close.
Introduced by Bashford at the drums “Visual Balance” is another swinging, up-tempo number that acts as the springboard for virtuoso solos from Sear and Sansom. It’s a high energy performance that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic Blue Note record and was even released as a single.
Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” slows the pace down a little but the performance still retains a sense of swing with Sear’s arrangement bringing a contemporary twist to the original. Pursglove solos with great fluency and virtuosity, eventually followed by the leader on trombone and Sansom at the piano. Owston and Bashford also play significant roles as they interact with the soloists, with Bashford enjoying his own feature towards the close.
The album’s second cover follows immediately with Sear’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”. Bashford again features strongly, no more so than in the introductory drums and horns dialogue, which eventually leads into a spirited group rendition of Henderson’s theme. This provides the jumping off point for further bravura soloing from Pursglove, whose trumpet pyrotechnics have attracted comparisons with Dizzy Gillespie. He’s more than matched by Sear on trombone. Bashford then returns to the fore in another joust with the horns prior to the collective finale.
Sear’s own “Blues for Rockydella Rascal” is written in the style of a standard and again sounds as if it could have come from the vintage Blue Note catalogue. It’s an up-tempo piece that swings relentlessly and triggers a rousing trombone solo from Sear. Owston, an impressive presence throughout, is rewarded with his first solo of the set and Bashford again shines at the drums with a series of breaks. There’s plenty of energetic, but sharply focussed ensemble playing too.
The album concludes with an alternative take on “Eyes That Speak a Thousand Words”, a performance that is essentially similar to its companion.
“I Always Thought My Thought Were Me” represents an impressive début from Sear. Despite his self acknowledged troubles with mental health the mood of the album is largely upbeat and swinging, acknowledging the joy that jazz has brought into his life. Sear impresses as a player, composer, arranger and bandleader and there is a real musical chemistry between all the members of the quintet, who all perform superbly whether as individual soloists or as a unit.
The album was documented at Sansom Studios in Birmingham, owned by Elliott Sansom and his brother Olly. It was recorded and mixed by Olly Sansom and he and mastering engineer Peter Beckmann deserve great credit for making the music and musicians sound so good.
Although there’s nothing radically new here this is a highly enjoyable album that features some terrific playing from all concerned. As such it’s a very good advertisement for the strength of the Birmingham jazz scene and one also suspects that this quintet would represent a highly exciting live attraction. I hope to be able to catch them at a gig at some point in the future.
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