by Ian Mann
January 27, 2017
A début album that impresses with its ambition, scope and emotional and compositional maturity.
Henry Spencer and Juncture
“The Reasons Don’t Change”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4698)
I first heard the playing of the young trumpeter Henry Spencer in 2014 on the eponymous début album of the seven piece band Quadraceratops led by the saxophonist Cath Roberts. Spencer impressed as part of the four person horn section that helped to give the group its name. I later enjoyed his contribution to a live performance by Quadraceratops at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.
In the meantime the talented Spencer has also been leading his own quintet, Juncture, featuring some of the brightest rising stars on the UK jazz scene with Nick Costley-White on guitar, Matt Robinson on a variety of keyboards, (piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, mellotron), Andrew Robb on double bass and Dave Ingamells at the drums.
Spencer’s abilities as a musician and a composer attracted the attention of Whirlwind Recordings supremo Michael Janisch who invited the young trumpeter to record his début album for the label. “The Reasons Don’t Change” is an ambitious work that includes ten wide ranging original compositions and features an appearance by the Guastalla Quartet comprised of violinists John Garner and Marie Shreer, violist Agata Darashkaite and cellist Sergio Serra. Recorded in London and mixed and mastered New York the album features the production and engineering talents of Paul Whalley, Dave Darlington, George Murphy, Charlie Morton and Philip Bagenal.
Spencer is a recent graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Dance and his core quintet consists of fellow alumni. A frequent award winner Spencer has received the Help for Musicians UK’s Emerging Excellence Award (2014) and he was also voted best newcomer at the Marlborough Jazz Festival (2011). Besides his work with Quadraceratops and Juncture Spencer has also performed with pianists Julian Joseph and Jason Rebello, saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and with the London Jazz Orchestra.
Despite his obvious jazz credentials Spencer’s album notes express his admiration for the work of singer-songwriters and he once considered adopting this path himself. He says of his writing methods;
“I aim to approach instrumental music in the same way – with as much emotive clarity as if the music had lyrics. My wish is that listeners might engage with the original emotional and lyrical context of the album, almost as if it were being presented by a singer-songwriter and then relate it to their own experience.”
He continues “Each composition on this album is a response to, and my way of dealing with, specific personal experiences. I’ve always been drawn to music and art that is driven by sincere emotional intent and creative expression derived from genuine experience”.
A number of these pieces actually have unsung words that formed part of the compositional process.
Armed with this knowledge it’s perhaps not too surprising to discover that Spencer’s compositions have a strong narrative quality, beginning with “Introduction / Hindsight Can Wait” which commences with the sound of the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet, a lonely and plaintive voice, before the rest of the band crash in dramatically. This is a piece that readily embraces contrasts as Ingamells’ driving drums give way to Robinson’s lyrical piano, this followed by Costley-White’s searing, rock influenced guitar. With the exception of the intro and the early stages of Robinson’s piano interlude this is a piece that fairly bristles with energy and intent and Spencer’s trumpeting is utterly majestic, a phrase I’ve previously used to describe his playing with Quadraceratops.
Spencer describes “On The Bridge” as being about “a time of significant transition and the anticipated sense of liberation that will result from the changes”. It’s another piece that unfolds organically, encompassing a variety of moods and embracing song like structures and rock rhythms as required as it builds from quiet beginnings to an anthemic grandeur. Spencer’s own playing is again magnificent, his brightly luminous tones combining well with Costley-White’s guitar and Robinson’s piano. But it’s also a brilliant all round group performance, this band are as tight as brothers and the skills of the production and engineering team ensure that they are heard at their best.
“Eulogy (Goodbye Old Chap)” is described simply as “a dedication”. Both lament and celebration it’s another piece to embrace a variety of emotions as moments of quiet reflection contrast with more exuberant episodes toasting a life well lived. Costley-White impresses on guitar but it’s the leader’s assured trumpeting, including some stirring excursions into the instrument’s upper registers, that really catches the ear.
A delightful trumpet / piano duet introduces “Joanne’s Diary”, this superseded by Costley-White’s Frisell like guitar twang as the other band members join the equation. The mood remains largely introspective and there’s a thoughtful piano solo from Robinson.
Robinson and Spencer also introduce “Knock Back, Knocked Forward”, the circling motifs hinting at the influence of minimalism and providing the framework for the fluently elegant solos from Spencer and Costley-White. Again several changes of mood and pace are explored. Throughout the album Spencer proves that he is a multi-faceted and remarkably assured composer.
The ballad “Never Draw A Line” features Spencer at his most pensive and he’s given sympathetic support by his colleagues. Bassist Andrew Robb steps out of the shadows with a melodic solo and there’s a lyrical piano episode from Robinson before the leader’s trumpet takes over and the music assumes a more optimistic direction. The accompanying press release speaks of Spencer’s “pervading theme of positivity, of transforming regret into liberation” and there’s something of that here and throughout the album. It’s the kind of happy/sad dynamic that’s at the heart of so much great pop and rock music - and something that fits neatly into Spencer’s singer-songwriter aesthetic.
Of the following “Still Open to Confusion” Spencer states “recurring distractions and doubts highlight the fragility of some convictions as well as the strength of others”. The piece is a total contrast to its predecessor with its furiously fuzzed up guitar motif and impassioned but still fluent trumpeting. Robinson’s sparkling piano solo adds an element of lyricism but overall it’s a bundle of energy with dynamic drummer Ingamells showing up well. Always sharp, crisp and inventive he excels throughout the album, always busy, always interesting, but never intrusive.
“Remember Why” was the first composition Spencer wrote for the album and he says of the piece “self assurance of why some decisions in the past were made” - which makes it a companion to its immediate predecessor I guess. I’d surmise that there was a guide lyric for this and there’s a suitably vocal quality about Spencer’s own lines but the chief delight is the dovetailing of Robinson’s piano and Costley-White’s guitar as they combine mid tune.
“Hopeless Heartless” features the melancholy sound of Spencer’s flugelhorn cushioned by the strings of the Guastalla Quartet plus a flowingly lyrical piano from Robinson as Ingamells provides sympathetically brushed accompaniment.
The concluding “The Survivor and The Descendent” features the full nonet in more full on mode, with the swirling strings augmenting Costley-White’s stinging, rock influenced guitar and Spencer’s bravura trumpeting as Ingamells pummels his drum kit. It’s a dramatic and highly effective way to end a début album that impresses with its ambition, scope and emotional and compositional maturity.
Spencer possesses an astonishing technical facility as a trumpeter and he plays like a man possessed throughout the album, but ultimately its his writing that impresses most of all on a series of pieces that embrace a wide stylistic and emotional range, often within the confines of a single composition. His core quintet all perform superbly, both individually and collectively, with Costley-White and Robinson adding some telling solos of their own. Robb and Ingamells form an impressive rhythm pairing and the Guastalla Quartet provide a welcome splash of additional colour. The musicians are well served by the production team, as I’ve already intimated.
Michael Janisch is particularly excited by this début release and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. “The Reasons Don’t Change” has already been tipped as a potential “album of the year” in some quarters and although it’s maybe a bit too early in the year to be making such claims it’s undoubtedly an album that deserves to make big impact. Expect to here a lot more of Henry Spencer and Juncture in 2017.
The official album launch will be at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on February 7th 2017 with a number of other tour dates scheduled later in the year as below;
Pizza Express Jazz Club
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Dean Street, London W1V 5RL. Venue phone: 0845 6027017.
‘The Reasons Don’t Change’ album launch event
Henry Spencer – trumpet, Matt Robinson – piano, Nick Costley-White – guitar, Andrew Robb – bass and David Ingamells – drums.
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Calstock Arts The Old Chapel Sand Lane. Venue phone: 01822 833183.
Time: 8:00pm. Address: St Lawrence Chapel.
Appledore, North Devon
North Devon Jazz Club
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Irsha Street. Venue phone: 01237 421 065.
St Ives, Cornwall
St. Ives Jazz Club
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Western Hotel, Royal Square.
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