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by Ian Mann

April 06, 2006


This is music that speaks rather than shouts. Excellent original writing by the two leaders and sparkling playing by all concerned.

Liverpool born saxophonist Tim Whitehead has cut a fiercely independent figure on the British jazz scene for nearly thirty years.

Following work with Ian Carr and Graham Collier, Whitehead formed his own band “Borderline” which was one of the first professional gigs for keyboard player Django Bates. Whitehead subsequently followed Bates into Loose Tubes whose brief but glorious flowering in the Mid 80’s helped bring him (and many others) to greater public attention.

With the demise of Loose Tubes he experimented with Latin and Fusion elements in a quintet featuring ex Loose Tubes colleagues John Paricelli (guitar) and Nic France (drums) recording an album “Decision” (1988) under the aegis “The Tim Whitehead Band”.

In 1990 the amiable Whitehead formed a more traditional tenor plus rhythm section quartet with Pete Jacobsen (piano), Arnie Somogyi (bass) and Dave Barry (drums). However, Whitehead eschewed the post Coltrane bluster of many contemporary saxophonists and developed his own highly personal “less is more” approach to the tenor but without falling into the trap of becoming a Jan Garbarek sound alike. This line-up recorded a live album “Authentic” at Ronnie Scott’s Club in 1991.

The quartet recorded a second album “Silence Between Waves” as the result of an Arts Council commission.

In 1999 a new quartet featuring current drummer Milo Fell alongside pianist Liam Noble and Sam Burgess (bass) recorded “Personal Standards” a partially successful project that found Whitehead re-inventing standards and pop material such as Martha Reeves “Dancing In The Street”.

For this latest album Whitehead is joined by Paris based, Italian born pianist Giovanni Mirabassi who assumes co-leader status. Fell is joined in the rhythm section by bassist Oli Hayhurst formerly a member of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble.

Whitehead and Mirabassi share the compositional duties each contributing three tunes to this set. The quartet also tackle a standard - “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, a pop tune - John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Steve Swallow’s modern classic - “Ladies In Mercedes”.

Whitehead’s opening title track which draws it’s inspiration from “Dancing In The Street” on “Personal Standards” is a spirited opener featuring relatively straight ahead blowing over Mirabassi’s stabbing chords and Fell’s chattering percussion. Whitehead has a style very much his own, avoiding all the hard-bop clichés and although his playing is not aggressive it is always confident and quietly assertive and never sinks into torpor.

Mirabassi’s “Des Jours Meilleurs” opens with a delightfully simple melody which then builds through the composer’s thoughtful solo before Whitehead picks up the melody for a rhapsodic solo of his own. Hayhurst then provides a singing bass interlude over Mirabassi’s comping and Fell’s brushes. Whitehead then restates the theme. An excellent and well-constructed composition.

The next two tracks were recorded live at a concert at St. Cyprians Church, Marylebone in January 2005. Whitehead and Mirabassi play “Imagine” in a duo context. Whitehead is particularly fond of de-constructing pop songs as evidenced on his “Personal Standards” album. Here Mirabassi essays a beautiful piano production before Whitehead states the melody line. The two players then take the tune to places that Lennon could never have imagined (pun intended).

The playing and interaction is incredible but whenever the melody line re-emerges I can’t get Lennon’s unctuous and sanctimonious lyrics out of my head so despite the quality of the playing this one doesn’t quite work for me. I found this to be a problem throughout “Personal Standards” hence the earlier comment on it being only a ‘partial success’. As for Lennon’s original surely it’s one of the most overrated pop songs ever - and I love The Beatles!

The standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” is far more effective. The quartet delivers it at a stately pace with thoughtful soloing by Mirabassi and Whitehead greatly assisted by imaginative but delicate percussion from Fell.

Whitehead’s joyous “New Day” with it’s Latin inflections and strong theme contains more fine playing and seems shorter than it’s 10 minute duration.

The next two tracks were recorded at London’s Purcell Room on July 8th 2005 - the day after the London bombings. There was some doubt as to whether the concert would proceed but things went ahead and the quartet responded to the tragedy with this life-affirming music. Mirabassi’s “Barcarole” features another strong melody and a rolling, flowing solo from the composer plus more joyous playing from Whitehead.Swallow’s “Ladies In Mercedes ” is given a similar treatment as the band romp through it swiftly with more sparkling playing from Mirabassi. Some time ago British singer Norma Winstone added lyrics to this tune but they don’t give me the same problem as Lennon. In fact I rather like them.

The mood is then varied by Whitehead’s ballad “Tenderness” featuring his smoky tenor.

Mirabassi’s grooving “Tot Ou Tard” closes the album on a high note with yet more great soloing from both Mirabassi and Whitehead. This sounds as if it was recorded live too but the location is not given in the album’s notes.

This is a high quality album with excellent original writing by the two leaders and sparkling playing by all concerned. The production by Chris Lewis is excellent, who also engineered, and by Milo Fell who in addition to filling the drum chair acted as co-producer.

This is music that speaks rather than shouts. Consequently the album on the Home Made Records label takes a couple of listens to get into but your patience will be well rewarded.

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