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Ferg Ireland Trio

Ferg Ireland Trio

by Ian Mann

June 29, 2021


The rapport between three exceptional musicians is apparent throughout, relaxed yet vibrant, and with virtuoso technique combined with an admirable energy and urgency.

Ferg Ireland Trio

“Ferg Ireland Trio”

(Mondegreen Records)

Ferg Ireland – bass, Nathaniel Facey – alto saxophone, James Maddren – drums

Ferg Ireland is a London based bass player and composer who studied at Trinity Laban and later at the Royal Academy of Music.

He has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages playing in the bands of others. He has featured on recordings by saxophonists Samuel Eagles and Helena Kay and by the Kansas Smitty’s sextet and in live settings with the Royal Academy of Music Big Band and with guitarist Ant Law’s quartet.

Other jazz artists with whom Ireland has worked include pianists Sam Leak, Tom Hewson and Ashley Henry, saxophonists Alex Hitchcock and Soweto Kinch, flautist Tenderlonius, guitarist Filipe Monteiro and trumpeter Pete Horsfall. He has recorded with the bands Ruby Rushton, 22a and Club Kuru and with the percussionist / vocalist Joao Caetano.

He has also appeared with leading American jazz artists including drummer Jason Marsalis, pianist Johnny O’neal and trumpeter Leroy Jones.

As a session musician Ireland has worked with Gregory Porter, Sam Smith, James Bay, Marcus Mumford and the Mercury Music Prize winning rap artist Dave.

As a composer Ireland has written songs for the pop artist Isabelle Brown and has also written music for advertising campaigns. Apparently he’s even appeared as a model in some of them.

Ireland’s jazz trio was first formed in 2013, emerging out of a series of informal jam sessions. It features two of the UK’s leading, and most popular jazz musicians, alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, best known for his work with the quartet Empirical, a band with which Ireland has ‘depped’, and the ubiquitous James Maddren, perhaps the most in demand jazz drummer in the country.

The music on Ireland’s début release as a bandleader was recorded over the course of a single day in July 2017,  with studio trickery intentionally kept to a minimum and with many of the performances first takes. The programme features seven original compositions by Ireland and the recording was originally released on vinyl in 2018, quickly selling it out. It has now been afforded a CD and digital release and is available alongside the vinyl at the Mondegreen Bandcamp page.

The trio describe their music as coming from the post bop tradition but with a substantial influence from the contemporary dance rhythms of the London music scene.

These factors are reflected in album opener “Stay Broke”, the title not a reference(as I first thought) to the precarious financial existence of the jazz musician, but instead to the broken beats of contemporary urban music. These elements are incorporated into the context of an acoustic saxophone trio performance from the lineage of Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and numerous others. Ireland and Maddren are wholly equipped to navigate the rhythmic demands of the piece and the bassist’s complex but forceful lines, allied to Maddren’s busy, fluid, ever evolving polyrhythms create the perfect vehicle for Facey’s garrulous alto sax improvisations, an irresistible blend of power and fluency. Maddren then enjoys something of a drum feature toward the end of the piece. It all makes for a rousing and richly satisfying opener and suggests that this trio would represent a hugely exciting live proposition.

Named for Ludwick Mews,  a location in New Cross, “Ludwick Blues” is more obviously rooted in the jazz tradition with its bluesy, bebop derived melodic hook, which forms the basis for the trio’s spirited interplay, with Maddren now deploying brushes, albeit vigorously. The leader gets the chance to demonstrate his considerable chops as a bass soloist, eventually handing over to Facey as the music begins to build an unstoppable momentum, with Maddren picking up the sticks once more to give a supremely energetic and intelligent performance behind the kit as Facey continues to dig in. The drummer also enjoys a series of busy and colourful breaks as he exchanges ideas with the saxophonist.

Also taking its cue from the tradition is the more spacious “Mel’s Mood”, which finds the trio engaged in friendly but spirited musical dialogue on a tune that sounds as if it could be a forgotten standard. Along the way we get to enjoy another masterful bass solo from Ireland, fluent and hugely dexterous, with Maddren’s brisk but unobtrusive drum accompaniment the perfect foil.

“When You Know” finds the trio in more reflective mood with Facey’s softly keening, gently exploratory alto accompanied by the leader’s deeply resonant bass and Maddren’s subtle, Latin inflected drumming, much of it played with bare hands. Again the main theme sounds as if it could be a forgotten standard, a further tribute to the quality of Ireland’s writing. The leader also delivers another excellent bass solo, deeply resonant but with a strong focus on melody.

Also inhabiting ‘forgotten standard’ territory “Lips” is a vigorous bebop inspired piece that features Facey at his most Parker-like. The trio also mention John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy as influences, and on several of the pieces I’d cite Ornette Coleman too. Ireland adds a swingingly insouciant bass solo and Maddren is a busy, impish figure at the kit throughout. Facey’s barnstorming alto solo then steers the music in some unexpected directions, the energy of the performance faithfully captured by recording engineers Laurie and Graham Erskine.

The near twelve minute “Confession” is arguably the album’s centre piece and brings some of those Coltrane and Dolphy influences into play. The extended and atmospheric intro features the sounds of Facey’s overblown alto and the drone of Ireland’s bowed bass. When Ireland puts down the bow to establish a pizzicato groove something of the spirit of Coltrane is evoked with Maddren’s colourful drumming augmenting Facey’s clarion like alto and Ireland’s deep, anchoring bass lines.
The trio really stretch out here, probing deeply and collectively before Facey eventually steps aside, leaving the path clear for the dialogue between Ireland and Maddren, with the bassist skilfully spearheading the conversation. Facey’s absence is only temporary and he returns for a climactic final section featuring the dramatic wail of his alto alongside Ireland’s earthy bass and Maddren’s dynamic drumming.

The final track is “Fruit Fly”, which I think I’m correct in saying didn’t appear on the original vinyl edition. This is another piece rooted in the bebop tradition and which again has the feeling of a ‘forgotten standard’ about it. Facey stretches out, his horn sounding almost tenor like at times, above a loping bass groove and the busy chatter of Maddren’s drums. Appropriately the leader signs off with another wonderfully fluent and dexterous bass solo.

All in all this represents an impressive leadership début from Ireland. The rapport between three exceptional musicians is apparent throughout, relaxed yet vibrant and with virtuoso technique combined with an admirable energy and urgency. The live in the studio approach works well with mixing engineer Alex Killpartrick achieving a good, clean sound with good delineation between the instruments, but doing so without sacrificing anything in terms of the essential immediacy and joyousness.

As a composer Ireland writes strong themes, largely within the tradition, but with the addition of a contemporary twist, especially on pieces like “Stay Broke”. They make great vehicles for the trio to improvise around, and although there is nothing truly radical here Ireland and the trio can be justifiably proud of their efforts.  Let’s hope that they can also return to regular live performances in the near future, there’s no doubt that this unpretentious but enterprising music would sound even more exciting in an authentic jazz club environment.

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