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by Ian Mann

July 13, 2006


This is a stunning album with some first class writing, superb arrangements incorporating both acoustic and electric instruments and some dynamic playing from all concerned.

Keyboard player, composer and educator Tim Richards has been an important figure on the UK jazz scene for many years now. His quartet Spirit Level (featuring demon saxophonist Paul Dunmall) toured and recorded extensively throughout the 1980’s and 90’s and in 1999 Richards began working with an expanded nine-piece line-up which he dubbed Great Spirit.

Many of Britain’s finest jazz musicians have appeared with the band and the personnel for this, the second Great Spirit album is a superb blend of youth and experience. Richards himself, trumpeter Dick Pearce and vibes man Roger Beaujolais have been on the scene for a long time whilst saxophonists Jason Yarde, Ed Jones and Tony Kofi have earned their reputations more recently. The rhythm section is younger still, the dynamic pairing of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Rochford.  The only player new to me is Australian guitarist Leon Stenning who makes a highly impressive contribution to the album. Only Richards, Kofi, Beaujolais and Pearce remain from the previous album “Suite For The Shed” (33Jazz051) which was recorded in 1999.

The material features the varied and imaginative writing of Richards, an excellent re-working of Thelonious Monk’s title tune plus compositions from tenorist Ed Jones and American trumpeter Jack Walrath.
Walrath used to guest with Spirit Level and that band recorded his composition “Kirsten Sunday Morning”. Now arranged for nonet it opens the new album and gets things off to a flying start with some dazzling unison horn passages, a powerful tenor solo from Jones, fleet fingered guitar from Stenning and dynamic drumming from Rochford.

Ed Jones also plays with funk bands Us3 and Incognito and although he composes only rarely he contributes “Pushing The Boat Back” an intriguing composition with a subtle funk undertow thanks to Herbert’s muscular electric bass and Richards’ Fender Rhodes piano. Stenning again features prominently and once more there is excellent interplay between the horns.

The Richards composition “Cliffs” is more overtly funky featuring both Fender Rhodes and organ with Stenning’s nonchalant but rock orientated guitar sharing the solo honours with Pearce’s probing trumpet.
Richards has imaginatively rearranged one of his favourite Monk tunes “Epistrophy” which commences with Jones improvising on a wonderfully woody sounding bass clarinet before the band state the main theme. The music then segues into Richards’ complementary composition “Apostrophe” incorporating solos from the dancing vibes of Beaujolais, the rousingly gruff baritone of Kofi, the searing alto of Yarde, and the agile bass of Herbert. The Monk theme is then restated again with Jones once more featuring on bass clarinet.

“Over The Moon” is another composition previously recorded by Spirit Level and also by Richards in trio form. Here in an arrangement for the nine piece it incorporates not only the judicious use of electronic effects and invigorating new horn arrangements but also a sparkling and subtly funky and bluesy acoustic piano solo.

“Fish Wish” slows the tempo and is a tender duet between Richards’ acoustic piano and Jones’ soulful tenor sax. With its strong theme and superb musicianship the piece is an uplifting listening experience.

“From The Deep” closes the album in storming fashion incorporating Pearce duelling with Yarde, a four-horn dialogue and more fireworks from Rochford.

This is a stunning album with some first class writing, superb arrangements incorporating both acoustic and electric instruments and some dynamic playing from all concerned. This band must be quite something in a live context and as luck would have it they will be touring in the autumn.

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