by Ian Mann
December 19, 2016
Another impressive outing from Crawford. The programme is a mix of originals plus a genre spanning selection of outside material, all of which makes for an interesting, varied and stimulating album.
“Times and Tides”
(Monpas Records JCTATCD2)
“Times and Tides” is the second album as a leader from the versatile London based pianist and composer John Crawford and represents a follow up to 2013’s well received début release “Ulia River of Time”.
Born in London of English/Spanish parentage Crawford has grown up with a love of Latin and South American music. He has worked with a host of leading names in the field of Latin music and was a founding member of the popular band Grupo X. A highly versatile musician Crawford has also worked with an impressive list of UK jazz musicians, including vocalist Katriona Taylor, and has also done pop session work, most notably with Tanita Tikaram. To date he has appeared on over thirty albums across a variety of genres and in 2013 was nominated for an Independent Music Award. His knowledge of Latin piano styles has led to him co-authoring the book “Exploring Latin Piano” with fellow pianist Tim Richards. Crawford is currently a member of -isq, the jazz quartet fronted by vocalist Irene Serra and featuring bass player Richard Sadler and drummer Chris Nickolls.
For “Times and Tides” Crawford has retained the services of guitarist Guille Hill and percussionist Andres Ticino, both of whom appeared on the “Ulia” album. He has also recruited drummer Simon Pearson and his -isq colleague Richard Sadler to complete a core quintet. As on the previous release the album features contributions from a number of guest musicians with this time’s roll call including saxophonist Duncan Lamont, flugelhorn player Shanti Paul Jayasinha and vocalists Linley Weir and Eleonora Claps. The programme is a mix of Crawford originals plus a genre spanning selection of outside material, all of which makes for an interesting, varied and stimulating album.
Things kick off with the Crawford original “Blurred” which introduces the instrumental voices of the core quintet with the leader taking the first solo, the Latin exuberance of his playing balanced by an underlying lyricism. The Uruguayan born Hill follows, his cleanly picked acoustic guitar solo garnished by some tasty flamenco style flourishes. Ticino adds some delightful percussive detail his playing consistently bright, varied and inventive, and there’s also something of a kit feature for Pearson.
The mood is more sombre on an emotive version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Once I Loved”. The melancholy of the lyric finds expression in the measured vocals of Linley Weir and the flowing instrumental solos of Duncan Lamont on saxophone and leader Crawford at the piano.
Crawford’s own “Solea Por Brixton” lightens the mood with a breezy Latin/flamenco celebration of this part of South London. There’s a lithely picked acoustic guitar solo from Hill followed by an elegantly constructed piano feature from the leader as his playing gradually increases in terms of both momentum and intensity. Ticino’s percussion is prominent throughout and there’s something of a feature for him prior to an exuberant coda featuring piano and percussion.
Crawford’s arrangement of the Basque traditional tune “Gabriel’s Message” begins in stately fashion with the duo of Crawford and Hill working in tandem. The music then takes a different turn with the addition of Ticino’s percussion and things become much more lively with some dazzling flamenco style soloing from Hill and a joyous drum and percussion episode mid-tune. Crawford fills the spaces in between and also excels with a torrential solo that is full of ideas and is a good demonstration of his mastery of Latin jazz piano styles.
Perhaps the most intriguing item on the album is “Nini” which takes one of Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances” and re-invents it as a Latin jazz song in an arrangement by Crawford and with Spanish lyrics written and sung by Crawford’s wife Eleonora Claps. The singer gives an assured performance and receives excellent support from the instrumentalists with Crawford the featured soloist. It’s a re-imagining that is thoroughly convincing and one which works very well.
The Crawford original “Miriam’s Last Journey” is dedicated to the memory of Miriam Hyman, a victim of the 7th July 2005 London bombings. However the mood is far from sombre with the bright solos of Crawford and Hill well supported by the buoyant rhythms generated by Ticino, Sadler and Pearson. The essentially upbeat nature of the piece suggests that it is a celebration of Hyman’s life and of the charitable work still being done in her memory by the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust which runs an eye care centre for disadvantaged children in India.
Pat Metheny’s composition “James” is one of the guitarist’s most popular and adaptable tunes and has been covered by a wide variety of artists across a broad range of jazz genres. Crawford’s version gives the piece a Latin tinge and sees Hill impressing with a neatly picked acoustic guitar solo. Crawford responds well and there’s also an absorbing dialogue between the pair mid tune as the rhythm players temporarily drop out.
The inclusion of “Cono” by the great Malian musician Salf Keita represents another interesting choice. It’s perhaps indicative of Crawford’s interest in all types of music and the links between them. With its mix of Latin and African grooves the piece fits well into the context of the album as a whole and includes a first solo from bassist Richard Sadler, currently of -isq and formerly of the Neil Cowley Trio. There’s also a feature for the percussive duo of Ticino and Pearson.
The album concludes with the Crawford original “Endgame”. One of the leader’s most beautiful and mellifluous compositions the piece features the creamy lyricism of Shanti Paul Jayasinha on flugelhorn as he shares the solos with Crawford. It’s a case of a favour being returned as Crawford once played on Jayasinha’s world jazz album “Round Trip”.
“Times and Tides” represents another impressive solo outing from Crawford. The core quintet is a particularly well balanced ensemble who all perform superbly while each of the guests makes a telling contribution to the tracks on which they appear.
With a larger proportion of original tunes and with Crawford casting his stylistic net wider - although still operating within an essentially Latin framework - “Times and Tides” expands upon the promise of “Ulia River Time” and represents a very worthy successor.
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