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Jim Rattigan



by Ian Mann

October 20, 2014


This is a superbly balanced trio and each member deserves credit for a superb album of "chamber jazz" that retains the listener's attention throughout.

Jim Rattigan


(Pavillon Records 003)

Seeing Jim Rattigan performing recently playing both french horn and accordion as part of Birmingham based trumpeter Percy Pursglove’s “Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls Ensemble” was a a good prompt in terms of reviewing this new CD.

“Triplicity” represents Rattigan’s fifth album as a leader and follows “Unfamiliar Guise (2000), “Jazz French Horn” (2004), “Shuzzed” (2010) and “Strong Tea” (2011). It teams him with pianist Liam Noble and with violinist Thomas Gould, the latter a musician, like Rattigan, with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps. Rattigan met Gould when both were touring with pianist Brad Mehldau as part of the American’s Brad Mehldau and the Britten Sinfonia project.

The combination of french horn, violin and piano is commonly used in classical music and having decided on his trio partners Rattigan resolved to introduce the configuration to jazz. The result is “Triplicity”, a charming album of tunes written by Rattigan specifically for these musicians and drawing on influences from the worlds of jazz, classical and traditional folk music.

That the album is so wide ranging is perhaps not so surprising. Rattigan is a busy musician who is the first call on his instrument across a variety of genres including jazz, folk, pop, classical and film and TV soundtracks. His list of credits is mind boggling, far too lengthy to list here, but includes six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and session work with some of the biggest names in rock and pop . I know him best for his work in jazz ensembles including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, Mark Lockheart and the late, great Charlie Haden. He’s certainly the best known jazz french horn player in the UK (in a relatively uncrowded field I’ll grant you) and, as he proved with Pursglove, he’s also a more than adequate accordionist. 

I think “Triplicity” must be the first album I’ve reviewed where the french horn is the lead instrument although I do remember hearing and enjoying a couple of ECM releases by the American horn player John Clark back in the 1980s. However there’s still the sense that in many ways Rattigan is breaking new ground despite the presence of Bill Barber on french horn on the “Birth Of The Cool” sessions as far back as 1949.

“Triplicity” commences with “Jacaranda”, a splendidly spirited introduction to the blend of instruments, developing from Rattigan’s solo horn introduction and also featuring Noble’s atmospheric work inside the lid of his piano. Gould’s violin brings a folky impishness that contrasts well with the more lugubrious sound of Rattigan’s horn. The rapport between the three musicians is obvious from the start with Noble’s piano at the heart of the ensemble, his accompaniment to the solos of both Rattigan and Gould is superb and his own solo feature is a delight. A highly rhythmic player with a strong left hand Noble is ideally suited to this bass-less ensemble. “I knew Liam Noble would be perfect” remarks Rattigan in the press release, which just about says it all. 

Rattigan describes the tune “Jessica” as being “timeless and gentle”, another astute appraisal of his own work. The chemistry between the three musicians is here expressed in more lyrical fashion on one of the album’s most beautiful pieces.

“Sweet Tamarind” is a waltz inspired by the music of Bill Evans, a light airy thing that also has something of the feel of a café in Vienna or Budapest . Like the rest of the album it’s thoroughly charming and is a good showcase for the talented Gould, a classically trained violinist who likes to step outside the confines of the classical world and play in other genres from jazz to folk. In 2012 he made a significant contribution to saxophonist Trish Clowes’ album “and in the night time she is there”.

“Blitzar” is described by its composer as “dynamic and driven” and there’s certainly a greater degree of urgency about the playing with wonderfully fluent solos from Rattigan, Gould and Noble plus some lively group interplay.

The trio revert to a more lyrical approach on the lovely “Dreamer”, which Rattigan describes as being “infinite and questioning”. There’s a pristine quality about the sound, an ECM like use of space, and credit should be given to engineers Curtis Schwartz and Peter Beckmann for the quality of the mix throughout the recording.

“Off The Rails” receives the description “eccentric and demanding” and it is the piece that embraces most fully the concept of improvisation. The tricky, urgent theme eventually edges into less structured, freely improvised territory, familiar ground for Noble but, perhaps, less so for Gould. However as one of the leading lights of a new breed of string players who approach the concept of improvisation with confidence the violinist rises to the challenge with considerable élan. 

The more sedate and pastoral “Barton Glebe” was the first piece Rattigan wrote for this project and is loosely based on a Brahms trio for the same combination of instruments. Rattigan’s warm round sound and Gould’s gently effortless virtuosity are complemented by Noble’s intelligent serenity.

“Patrick’s Song” is given a vaguely Celtic flavour and is notable for the playful interplay between horn and violin with Noble the glue holding it all together.

There’s more terrific interplay on the “quirky” (Rattigan’s phrase) “Zerene”, a piece with something of an Eastern European flavour. Gould is again in inspired form and there’s also an excellent passage of solo piano from Noble. These passages of unaccompanied piano actually represent some of the highlights of the set.

“Trail Of Tears” was inspired by Native American history and is an achingly sad lament featuring sparse piano chords and gossamer like high register violin allied to the solemn gravitas of Rattigan’s horn, the leader’s emotive playing presenting a kind of valedictory.

After the sadness comes the “resolve and hope” in the shape of the brief but uplifting “Last Waltz”.

Beautifully played and immaculately recorded “Triplicity” represents an impressive artistic statement by Rattigan and his colleagues. This is a superbly balanced trio and each member deserves credit for a superb album of “chamber jazz” that retains the listener’s attention throughout.

The control and fluency of Rattigan’s playing ensures that in his hands the french horn is a thoroughly convincing jazz instrument. Gould is a revelation throughout and Noble is superb as usual as he presents a different side of his multi faceted musical personality. “Triplicity” has many moments of great beauty but also possesses the kind of rigorousness that is present in all the best contemporary jazz.

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