by Ian Mann
June 30, 2020
The excellence of the playing is matched by the intelligence of Beebee’s writing, which is particularly rich in terms of colour and texture. The musical & production standards remain high throughout.
David Beebee Quartet
“David Beebee Quartet”
(Beeboss Records BBCD2022)
David Beebee – piano, compositions, Julian Nicholas – tenor & soprano saxes
Jakub Cywinski – double bass, Eric Ford – drums
I’m indebted to saxophonist Julian Costello, a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, for passing my name to pianist and composer David Beebee. The latter subsequently forwarded this recently album by his new quartet for review, so my thanks to David for that.
Based on the South Coast Beebee is a multi-instrumentalist who also plays electric keyboards, acoustic and electric bass and cello. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London where his piano tutors included Huw Warren, John Taylor and Michael Garrick, the last two sadly no longer with us. Other mentors included the saxophonist Julian Arguelles and the composer Graham Collier.
Beebee is a prolific composer who has written music for large and small jazz ensembles and also for the cinema. He runs his own recording studio in the Sussex town of Seaford, near Brighton and has founded his own record label, Beeboss Records. To date the label has released around ten CDs, mainly featuring musicians based on the South Coast, among them Julian Nicholas.
Born in London Beebee was classically trained, concentrating on the cello, but his early professional career found him playing electric bass with a variety of rock bands. Tiring of the restrictions of both the instrument and the format he resumed his piano studies and turned towards jazz, initially influenced by the music of Weather Report. This culminated in his studies at the Academy, as detailed above.
Beebee subsequently released the multi-instrumental solo album “Squiggly Music” and, leading from the bass, formed the nine piece ensemble Gaya, releasing an album of that name to considerable critical acclaim.
As a pianist he co-led the quartet Momentito with saxophonist Ian Price and has also worked with Costello, Nicholas and with guitarist Patrick Naylor.
His playing has also featured in large ensembles such as the London based collective Brasil Universo and the Brighton based One World Orchestra and Studio 9 Orchestra, acting as the musical director for the latter. He has also toured internationally with the acclaimed Palestinian singer Reem Kelani.
This new quartet offering features eleven original compositions by Beebee documented over the course of two short sessions during 2019. Many of the pieces are first takes and the compositions are inspired by artists associated with the famous ECM record label, among them saxophonists Jan Garbarek and Charlie Mariano and pianists Keith Jarrett and Rainer Bruninghaus.
The line up features Beebee and his regular trio members Jakub Cywinski (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums) together with Beebee’s South Coast neighbour Julian Nicholas on tenor and soprano saxes.
It’s a very impressive line up with Nicholas and Ford having worked with such high profile acts as Loose Tubes and Brotherhood of Breath (Nicholas) and Partikel (Ford).
The main inspiration for the recording seems to be Keith Jarrett’s ‘Belonging’ quartet featuring Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen, the line up that appeared on the classic ECM albums “Belonging” (1974) and “My Song” (1978).
Beebee’s album commences with his composition “Strawberry Moon”, which establishes the quartet’s sound, lyrical, yet dynamic and with a strong focus on melody. Interestingly the first soloing opportunity goes to bassist Cywinski who responds with a solo that is both melodic and swinging, and features him singing along with his melodic lines. Beebee then features with a lithe piano solo before Nicholas takes over on fluent, authoritative tenor. Ford’s drumming drives the band forward, but is also rich in terms of colour and detail, and he too is given his head with a powerful drum feature. Overall the piece represents an excellent introduction to the individual instrumental voices of the band.
The aptly named “Mellow” is a rubato style ballad with Nicholas’ tenor sax to the fore and with Ford’s exquisite cymbal work a distinctive feature.
The lengthy “Model T” finds the quartet stretching out more forcefully around a powerful theme with solos from the increasingly confident Beebee, followed by the always fluent Nicholas, who probes with a keen intelligence. There’s another feature for the excellent Ford, an imaginative drummer with a highly distinctive style whose presence is an asset to any band that he becomes involved with. He’s in particularly dynamic and exciting form here.
“Why” represents the album’s second ballad. Less abstract than the earlier “Mellow” it’s a true jazz ballad with Nicholas deploying a warm, breathy sound on tenor, again enhanced by the detail and delicacy of Ford’s cymbal work. Cywinski, who recently impressed on Julian Costello’s album “Connections” adds a deeply resonant and highly melodic bass solo. Beebee himself remains a lyrical, but ego-less presence throughout.
The pianist introduces the episodic “X Marks The Spot” unaccompanied, his limpid passage of solo piano eventually ushering in a gently undulating groove above which Nicholas emotes eloquently on tenor saxophone. His tone is vaguely reminiscent of Garbarek in terms of emotional impact, but is a million miles away from being a slavish copy. The saxophonist is followed by Cywinski who delivers a bowed bass solo that is stunning in its beauty and elegance but imbued with a cello like melancholy. Nicholas then explores further on tenor, probing more deeply as the rhythm section subtly builds the momentum.
“Georgina” sees the quartet returning to ballad mode, with Nicholas’ tender tenor statement of the theme followed by Beebee’s lyrical piano solo. Nicholas then stretches out a little further before handing over to Cywinski for a melodic pizzicato double bass solo. Cywinski is given plenty of soloing opportunities throughout the album and rightly so. The Pole is highly impressive player, both with and without the bow, and has worked with several leading classical orchestras as well as with jazz groups.
And it’s Cywinski who introduces the next piece, “Jay”, with a passage of unaccompanied pizzicato that unveils a deeper, darker, more sombre tone. Beebee subsequently joins him in duet, his gently rippling piano arpeggios underpinning Cywinski’s bass melodies as Ford supplies atmospheric percussive flourishes. Nicholas sketches the melodic theme on tenor, subsequently developing it further with the assistance of the rest of the quartet as he delves more deeply.
Cywinski and Ford develop the odd meter modal style groove of “U-turn”, thus providing the vehicle for Nicholas’s engaging soprano sax explorations. Beebee then solos expansively on piano, later succeeded by a thrillingly absorbing dialogue between the duo of Nicholas and Ford.
Nicholas remains on soprano for the charmingly airy “Buttercup”, his light, gentle tone well complemented by Beebee’s piano lyricism and Ford’s deft, splashy cymbal work. Cywinski again impresses with a lithe double bass solo, with which he can be detected softly singing along.
“Fruitful Opposites (Revisited)” restores Nicholas to the tenor, on which he broods gently but effectively above a backdrop of sombre piano and the atmospheric mallet rumbles, cymbal splashes and other percussive details generated by Ford.
The album concludes in contemplative fashion with “Duke”, introduced in lyrical fashion by piano, soprano sax and double bass. There’s bucolic feel about the music that is perhaps reflective of Beebee’s Sussex base. Ford eventually joins the others with some typically nuanced and finely detailed brush work while Cywinski delivers a similarly characteristic melodic bass solo. Nicholas’ sax keens gently, quietly soaring above the leader’s subtle piano prompting.
Overall the album represents an impressive offering from Beebee and his quartet. The group is a well balanced unit with Beebee leading subtly from the piano and giving more than ample soloing opportunities to his bandmates. Nicholas is in peerless form throughout, playing with great assurance and fluency. Cywinski continues to be an exciting discovery and Ford delivers a performance that encompasses both power and subtlety whilst exhibiting a typically keen ear for detail.
Indeed Ford, now a comparative veteran of almost sixty recordings, has described this album as “one of the most beautiful that I’ve played on” - and he makes a valid point. The excellence of the playing is matched by the intelligence of Beebee’s writing, which is particularly rich in terms of colour and texture.
That said the music could perhaps benefit from a wider emotional and dynamic range, the mix of ballads alternating with more up-tempo pieces can become a little too predictable at times with the risk of the album coming across as a set of compositional exercises. There’s also a LOT of music here with the album clocking in at over seventy seven minutes. Nevertheless one can understand Beebee’s reluctance to throw anything away, there are no ‘bad’ compositions here and no obvious ‘filler’. The musical and production standards remain high throughout, as befits a recording by a musician with his own studio and record label.
There’s a lot of very good and very enjoyable music here and all in all the positives far outweigh any perceived negatives. This is a value for money recording that is capable of appealing to a wide ranging jazz listenership and there’s more than enough good material here to ensure this album four stars and a recommendation.
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