Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

April 05, 2012


Punchy but melodic fusion for unadorned guitar, bass and drums.

The Neil C. Young Trio

“El Camino”

Neil C. Young is a guitarist and composer based in Lancashire who does most of his work in the North of England and the East Midlands. Between 1990 and 1992 Young studied guitar with Gary Boyle (mainstay of the fondly remembered 70’s Brit fusioneers Isotope and subsequently a successful solo artist) before moving on to Birmingham Conservatoire where his tutor was Midlands based guitarist/bassist Fred T. Baker.

On leaving the Conservatoire in 1996 he led the Ofay Jazz Quartet and Ofay Big Band playing jazz standards and has subsequently performed with Boyle, Birmingham based pianist Steve Tromans, trombonist Barnaby Dickinson and with the band The Latin Committee. His two main current projects are the trio featured on this album and the more rock orientated Rokasayers formed in 1999 by Young, bassist Simon Dale and drummer Richard Young, the core trio sound being augmented by the use of turntables, samplers and synths.

The Youngs (it’s not clear whether or not they’re brothers) are common to both groups with this trio being completed by electric bassist Alan Whitham. The music is still basically located in the fusion area with Gary Boyle’s influence readily apparent. Young also cites John Scofield, George Benson, Pat Metheny and pianist Keith Jarrett as inspirations and elements of all these are discernible in the trio’s blend of punchy but melodic fusion for unadorned guitar, drums and bass. 

The self released “El Camino” represents the group’s second album and follows the earlier “Where’s Yours?”, a recording that elicited praise from the celebrated American writer and critic Bill Mikowski (writing for “Jazz Times”), biographer of the late, great Jaco Pastorius, almost certainly another source of inspiration. The all original programme of “El Camino” features seven pieces by Neil C. Young and one by Richard Young.

It’s Richard’s marvellously named “Nutter Strut” that kicks off the album (the trio have a definite way with titles) a breezy, high energy strut with Neil’s choppy guitar chording meshing well with Whitham’s springy, propulsive bass and Richard’s crisp rock/funk drumming. It’s unpretentious and fun with the hard hitting grooves laced with a sense of humour. 

Neil’s “The Wagon (it left without me)” opens with a roll of Richard’s drums before settling into a pattern of alternating rock/jazz passages with Neil’s sparkling single note soloing (definitely a touch of Wes Montgomery here) underpinned by Richard’s busy rock influenced drumming and Whitham’s cushioning bass grooves. 

“Slashville” (another great title) features a killer hook and groove (not unlike Isotope in their hey day) which forms the jumping off point for Neil’s chord based guitar explorations. Chuggingly insistent the piece has a way of getting under your skin and staying there.

“Anonaggen” represents a pause for reflection with its extended solo guitar intro. Whitham and Richard Young enter slowly on a piece that is initially more atmospheric than its jokey title might suggest. Whitham’s lyrical, liquid bass playing is a particular highlight before the tune moves up a gear to encompass something more funky and hard hitting. Definitely a performance of two halves but one that still finds room for a delicate coda.

“Ballaed” boasts another whimsical title but is a genuine ballad with Neil on delicately picked semi acoustic duetting with Whitham on resonant but lyrical electric bass. A total contrast to much of that which surrounds it the piece possesses real beauty and provides something of a palette cleanser before the slinky funk of the following “Bear Claw” with its insistent grooves and very different guitar and bass solos.

The energy levels are maintained with “Scooter” where Richard’s crisp, restless drumming underpins Neil’s nimble jazz guitar chording and Whitham’s Pastorius like bass. The latter solos in singing Jaco style above above Richard’s military like drumming before Neil returns to up the ante even more prior to a long groove based fade interspersed by further statements of the theme. Closing track “Slaphead” (surely he’s not referring to me) is a good final encapsulation of the trio’s jazz, rock and funk credentials with it’s catchy, hooky high energy riffs and grooves that bind all three elements together.

Although there’s nothing radical about “El Camino” the album is nonetheless a strong statement from a regular working trio who must be great fun to see live. Neil’s jazz subtlety and sophistication combines well with Richard’s powerful rock and funk influenced drumming and Whitham’s agile, Jaco inspired bass. The three interact very well to produce a group sound that is greater than the sum of its parts and which works very well. There’s more sophistication here than might be immediately apparent with the writing absorbing the listener’s attention throughout. This is not a type of jazz I listen to very often these days and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this album.

The trio occupy a niche that extremists at either end of the jazz spectrum are likely to dismiss but open minded listeners and particularly fusion and funk fans should find much to enjoy here. I’d like to think that the trio’s music might appeal to adventurous rock audiences too.   

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