by Ian Mann
December 18, 2017
Original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century.
Fraser & The Alibis
“Fraser & The Alibis”
This self released recording represents the début album from Fraser & The Alibis, the quartet led by tenor saxophonist and composer Fraser Smith. The group also features organist Joe Webb, guitarist Harry Sankey and drummer Gethin Jones.
Previously known as The Applejacks the band first came together some ten years ago when its members were all studying on the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Now based in London they have played over 300 shows together in the past decade including appearances at the London, Cheltenham, Swansea, Birmingham and Brecon Jazz Festivals.
Although the group members are all in their late twenties they are passionate about straight-ahead jazz with band-leader Smith citing the influence of saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet and Clifford Jordan, organists Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, guitarist Wes Montgomery and numerous others on their music.
Smith says of his band’s sound;
“Through our own compositions we hope to recapture some of the magic that was the 50s / 60s Blue Note era. We’re into anything funky, hard swingin’ or grooving”.
Having accrued an album’s worth of fully ‘gigged in’ original material the band returned to Wales to record at Studiowz, a vintage studio with its own Hammond organ. The seven pieces see the band living up to their promise with a collection of tunes that are indeed “funky, hard swinging and grooving”. There are no real surprises here but this is an immensely enjoyable album that does ‘just what it says on the tin’.
The album kicks off with “The Dream” and the authentically big boned sound of Smith’s tenor alongside Jones’ crisp drumming. Webb takes the first solo on Hammond and he’s followed by the leader’s earthy, r’n’b tinged sax and the nimble elegance of Sankey’s Montgomery inspired guitar. Finally Jones enjoys a series of ebullient drum breaks.
There’s no let up in the energy levels as “French Toast” combines the raucous r’n’b flavoured sounds of Smith’s tenor with the gospel drenched soulfulness of Webb’s Hammond. The tenor/organ combination is particularly effective throughout the album with the solid drumming of Jones providing suitably propulsive rhythmic support. Jones is accustomed to working with organists having also performed with the Bristol based Hammond guru John Paul Gard. He’s also collaborated extensively with guitarist and composer Dan Messore in the band Indigo Kid.
The aptly named “B’s Blues” keeps the pot bubbling with a swinging, good natured performance featuring the agile, blues tinged guitar soloing of Sankey, the forthright r’n’b sound of Smith’s tenor and the adrenaline surge of Webb’s Hammond. The soloists are well supported by Jones’ bright, energetic drumming and Sankey’s skilful comping.
The energetic “On The Green” must surely be a crowd pleaser in the live environment with its infectious rhythms and fiery solos from tenor, Hammond and guitar. Organist Webb is a particularly versatile player and is also a skilled pianist. Credited on ‘keyboards’ he recently appeared on the album “Riser”, the acclaimed leadership début on Edition Records from rising star guitarist Rob Luft.
“Breakout” boasts a busy, almost boppish theme which is given the Alibis treatment with mercurial solos from Smith, Webb and Sankey above brisk, crisp, driving rhythms with Jones’ drum breaks also punctuating the tune.
Jones introduces the funky “Boogaloo Stew” at the drums and he helps to keep things simmering as Smith delivers a muscular theme statement before sharing the solos with Sankey. This ‘stew’ might be ‘meat and potatoes’, but it’s undeniably tasty.
It’s high octane stuff all the way as the album closes with the hard swinging “The Woods” with the fluent and inventive Sankey leading off the solos followed by the leader’s forthright tenor.
OK, so there’s nothing startlingly original here but that isn’t what Fraser & The Alibis are all about, and in fairness some of the group’s members have done more adventurous things elsewhere. But there’s no denying the skill and energy of the performances and the quality of the playing. The four band members sound as if they’re having a wail of time playing these original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century. The ensemble playing is tight, the soloing fluent and fiery and the rhythms crisp, hard driving and infectious. I’m also impressed with the quality of the original material, which embraces the values of the past but which doesn’t sound tired or hackneyed. And that vintage Hammond at Studiowz sounds great, like a living, breathing entity.
The pace is pretty relentless and the inclusion of a ballad may have added a welcome change of mood and an element of light and shade but as Smith has explained the Alibis primarily think of themselves as a live band. On this evidence one would imagine that they would be a highly exciting proposition in the live environment and they are regular performers at Ronnie Scott’s.
This album will primarily be available at the band’s gigs and one would imagine that it will make a great souvenir of their energetic live performances. However it’s also a rewarding listen in its own right with plenty of good things to enjoy about both the writing and the playing.
Further information about Fraser & The Alibis can be found at http://www.fraserandthealibis.comblog comments powered by Disqus