by Ian Mann
May 10, 2021
An inherently classy piece of work from a highly accomplished and well balanced trio. An excellent team effort all round.
Dean Stockdale Trio
“Promise The Moon”
Dean Stockdale – piano, Mick Shoulder – double bass, Abbie Finn- drums
Born In Darlington pianist, composer and educator Dean Stockdale is a popular and prolific presence on the jazz scene in the North of England.
He started learning the piano at the age of seven and began performing in public at the age of sixteen. Moving to London he became the resident pianist at the Savoy Hotel, which brought him into contact with a host of famous showbiz personalities.
Upon re-locating to Manchester Stockdale formed a jazz trio with bassist Gavin Barrass and drummer Adam Dawson, this group recording the 2017 album “Origin”. Review here;
He has also worked regularly as an in demand sideman, accompanying both singers and instrumentalists. Among those with whom he has worked are vocalists Zoe Gilby and Ruth Lambert, saxophonists Martin Speake, Tommaso Starace, Amy Roberts, Dean Masser, Alan Barnes and Dave O’Higgins, trumpeters Bruce Adams, Noel Dennis and Martin Shaw, and trombonists Dennis Rollins and Mark Nightingale. He has also performed in a duo format with fellow pianist Dave Newton and as part of Adam Dawson’s own quartet.
Stockdale has performed with large ensembles such as the Manchester Camerata Orchestra, Manchester Concert Orchestra and the SK2 Big Band, the latter specialising in the music of Stan Kenton. He has also performed regularly for the theatre, including several touring productions.
As a jazz pianist Stockdale cites Oscar Peterson as a key influence and he has performed Peterson themed shows. Other sources of pianistic inspiration include Bill Evans, Gene Harris, Mulgrew Miller and Errol Garner.
As this list suggests Stockdale is rooted in mainstream jazz and the American Songbook tradition, albeit with something of a contemporary twist. Like its predecessor “Promise The Moon” features a mix of original compositions and jazz standards, although this time around there is less emphasis on Stockdale as a composer in a programme comprised of four originals and five standards.
For this latest recording Stockdale, now based again in County Durham, has assembled a new trio featuring two musicians from the North East of England, bassist Mick Shoulder and rising star drummer Abbie Finn. Both are highly versatile musicians (Shoulder is also a talented guitarist) who also lead their own groups, with Stockdale featuring as a member of Finn’s five piece group Finntet.
Like so many other recent releases “Promise The Moon” is a product of lockdown, the album having been recorded by engineer Ian Stephenson over a two day period at Simpson Street Studios in Northumberland at the beginning of November 2020.
The album commences with an intriguing arrangement of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River”, initially deploying a stop / start rhythm that adds a pleasing edge to the performance and which helps to keep the listener on their toes. As the tune opens out Stockdale solos in more conventional fashion, his playing fluent and inventive with Shoulder and Finn adding subtly swinging support. The rhythm section is a highly effective blend of youth and experience, with Leeds College of Music graduate Finn displaying an impressive maturity with her neatly detailed and gently propulsive drumming.
Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” sees the trio taking a more orthodox jazz ballad approach, while still pushing subtly at the boundaries. Engineer Stephenson deserves credit for the crystalline sound of the piano, while also picking up every nuance of the bass and brushed drum accompaniment. Stockdale solos with a lyrical fluency and there’s also a delightfully melodic solo from the excellent Shoulder, a musician who has previously come to my attention through his work with pianist Paul Edis’ sextet.
The lunar theme established on the opener continues with Stockdale’s title track. The multi-talented leader also provided the album artwork, an image that seems to tie in neatly with this title.
Here the trio adopt a slightly more contemporary approach with bass and drums taking a more prominent role in the arrangement, meshing together neatly with Stockdale’s luminous melodic motifs. This is a particularly well integrated trio with its members consistently operating on the same wavelength throughout the recording. This piece features another bass solo from the melodic and dexterous Shoulder.
As its title might suggest Stockdale’s “Mia’s Lullaby” is a true jazz ballad, a warm, slightly lugubrious tune distinguished by the composer’s piano lyricism, the rounded tones of Shoulder’s bowed double bass and Finn’s gently brushed drums.
There’s a return to the standards repertoire with an arrangement of George Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, briefly introduced in the solo piano format by Stockdale. Thereafter the piece swings subtly throughout, gradually gathering momentum as Stockdale stretches out at the keyboard, his solo followed by subsequent features for both bass and drums, the latter concise, neatly constructed and inherently musical.
Stockdale’s jazz waltz “First Light” is ushered in by an elegant passage of unaccompanied piano, with the leader eventually joined by Shoulder’s bass and Finn’s delicately nuanced drums. The piece was inspired by the Bohemian landscape that Stockdale encountered during the course of a visit to Prague several years ago. The instantly memorable melody is one of those that sounds as if it has been around forever, with Stockdale citing the influence of Bach, as filtered through the playing of the American jazz pianist Fred Hersch, one of Stockdale’s more recent sources of pianistic inspiration. There’s an almost classical feel to the piece with the leader’s lightness of touch at the keyboard enhanced by the subtle support of his colleagues, with Shoulder delivering another delightfully melodic bass solo.
The arrangement of Jimmy McHugh’s “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” opens with a dialogue between Stockdale at the piano and Finn at the drums, with the latter remaining a busy and energetic presence throughout the track. Finn, in conjunction with Shoulder, provides crisp and swinging support behind Stockdale’s lively piano solo. She then ticks away behind Shoulder’s agile bass solo before enjoying a series of breezy and colourful drum breaks.
Stockdale’s final offering with the pen is the gentle and lyrical “Time For A Change” with its melodic bass solo, subtly underscored by the leader’s sympathetic piano chording and Finn’s delicate brushwork. The composer then displays a gently flowing lyricism at the piano. The performance also includes subtle allusions to the opening track “Moon River”, that lunar theme briefly swimming into focus again.
The album concludes with Cy Coleman’s “Witchcraft”, ending the recording on a gently swinging, upbeat note, with the interplay between Stockdale’s piano and Finn’s drums again a prominent feature in the arrangement. Stockdale delivers a typically fluent and inventive solo and there are also final features for both bass and drums.
There may no real surprises here but this is an inherently classy piece of work from a highly accomplished and well balanced trio. The arrangements of the standard material are both intelligent and inventive and engage the listener’s attention throughout. I’m similarly impressed with Stockdale’s own compositions and would have liked to have heard rather more of these. His previous trio album “Origin” included seven original pieces and only two standards. Nevertheless this shouldn’t detract from the success of this excellent new recording which also benefits from the immaculate sound balance provided by Ian Stephenson.
I was previously familiar with the playing of both Dean Stockdale and Mick Shoulder but the drumming of Abbie Finn represents an exciting new discovery for me. She displays an astonishing amount of skill and maturity throughout and I’d very much like to hear her leading her own groups, which include the aforementioned Finntet and a trio featuring the young Harry Keeble on tenor sax and the more experienced Paul Grainger on double bass. This line up recorded the album “Northern Perspective”,released during 2020. Keeble and Grainger are also members of the hard bop influenced Finntet, alongside Stockdale and trumpeter Graham Hardy.
“Promise The Moon” is an album that will appeal to all fans of mainstream jazz and to piano aficionados in particular, but jazz listeners of any persuasion should find something to enjoy here. An excellent team effort all round.
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