Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Matt Anderson Quartet

The Town and the City

by Ian Mann

July 01, 2022


The album succeeds thanks to a combination of consistently excellent playing and intelligent and varied writing. An excellent example of how wide ranging the contemporary tenor sax quartet can be.

Matt Anderson Quartet

“The Town and the City”

(Hidden Threads HTR-001)

Matt Anderson – tenor & soprano saxophones, Alberto Palau – piano, Will Harris – acoustic & electric bass, Jay Davis – drums

Originally from the North Yorkshire Moors saxophonist and composer Matt Anderson is now based in east London. He first moved to the capital in 2015 to study at the Royal Academy of Music, an institution at which he now holds a teaching position.

As a busy presence on the London jazz scene he has worked with pianists Ivo Neame and Mark Donlon,  guitarist Hannes Riepler and many others. He has also performed with the different big bands led by flautist Gareth Lockrane and bassist Calum Gourlay.

Prior to moving to London Anderson had studied at Leeds College of Music and retains close ties with musicians from that city, among them guitarists Jamie Taylor and Jiannis Pavlidis and pianist Jamil Sheriff.

In 2014 Anderson was featured on the début album by Jamie Taylor’s Outside Line quartet. In the same year he made his own début as a leader fronting the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet, a stellar group of young British musicians drawn from the Leeds and London scenes that included rising star Laura Jurd on trumpet plus guitarist Alex Munk, pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner. In January 2015 I enjoyed a live performance by this line up at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with my subsequent review also taking a look at the group’s début album, released on the Jellymould Jazz imprint.
That article can be read here;

It was in 2015 that Anderson, playing tenor saxophone, and Jiannis Pavlidis on guitar recorded the duo album “Alone Together”, released on New Jazz Records and currently only available as an on line release on Bandcamp.

In 2017 Anderson was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and he began to place a greater emphasis on his own writing. 2018 saw the release of his quartet album “Rambling”, an album that fused jazz and folk influences and which was inspired by Anderson’s rural upbringing and his love of walking and nature. It featured a core quartet of  Peter Lee on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Some pieces featured an extended ensemble with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, trombonist Owen Dawson and guitarist Aubin Vanns appearing on five of the album’s ten tracks.

“Rambling” was an impressive album and received a positive reaction from the jazz press. My review of the album, from which some of the above biographical detail has been sourced,  can be read here;

This new album focusses solely on the playing of Anderson’s quartet, which still features the rhythm section of Will Harris on bass and Jay Davis at the drums. The piano chair is now occupied by Valencia born, London based Alberto Palau, who has previously been heard as a member of guitarist Aubin Vanns’ quintet.

Anderson says of his intentions for the album;
“One of my aims with this record was to make a proper jazz album in the spirit of my favourite small group albums like Wayne Shorter’s ‘Speak No Evil’ or Sonny Rollins’ ‘Saxophone Colossus’. I wanted to focus on a small number of tunes that we could really stretch out on, like at a live gig, and also keep the amount of music manageable for the listener. At forty one minutes I think we got it just right. No overdubs, minimal editing, just high quality playing and musicianship and strong tunes. The album is very personal for me as it is my attempt to explore themes like identity, displacement and finding one’s own place in the world”.

The material features five new originals from the pen of Anderson, one from Palau and an instrumental version of the song “Albatross” by singer and songwriter Jamie Doe, the artist known as The Magic Lantern and with whom Anderson and Harris have both worked. The Bristol based Doe’s songs have regularly been covered by jazz acts, among them vocalist Emilia Martensson and the bands Moostak Trio and Moonlight Saving Time, the latter numbering Harris amongst its members.

The title of the new album signifies a fresh departure for Anderson and the quintet, the “City” part of the title reflecting a harder edged, more groove orientated approach to composition informed both by Anderson’s time spent living in London and the wider influence of the New York jazz scene.

The “Town” element reflects small-town England and Anderson’s rural upbringing, with the British folk and Scandinavian jazz influences that informed “Ramblings” also still present in some of the pieces on “The Town and the City”.

The album opens with the aptly named “Swagger”, the first of Anderson’s London / New York inspired ‘urban’ compositions. The piece features complex, hard driving rhythms with Palau’s left hand motifs combining with Harris’ bass and Davis’ drums to create a powerful 5/8 groove around which Anderson bases his tenor sax improvisations. This is not to say that the piece lacks subtlety, it moves seamlessly through a variety of rhythmic and dynamic changes as Anderson digs in, but without ever quite abandoning his inherent lyricism. Palau, who had previously impressed me with his contribution to the Aubin Vanns Quintet, also demonstrates his capabilities as a soloist with a neatly constructed piano feature that gradually gathers momentum and intensity. Anderson then takes over again as the piece resolves itself with a further set of variations on the main theme.

On “Ode To Europe”, a title presumably inspired by the Brexit débâcle, Anderson and the quartet revert to the more lyrical approach of “Rambling”. It opens with the sound of gently rippling piano arpeggios, subsequently joined in duet by the warm, melodic sounds of Anderson’s tenor. With the addition of bass and drums the music gathers momentum, but remains essentially lyrical, with something of a classical influence informing the writing. Anderson probes gently on tenor, skilfully accompanied by a sure footed rhythm section, with Davis’ deft drumming particularly impressive. Palau then takes over at the keyboard for an extended, and highly impressive, excursion in the piano trio format. Harris then emerges with a melodic acoustic bass solo, this complemented by Davis’ imaginative drum and cymbal accompaniment. Piano and sax return for the main theme, with tenor and drums prominent towards the close.

Palau’s “Northern Journey” also takes inspiration from classical music, but more importantly from British folk melodies. During the performance of this tune one is sometimes reminded of the folk inspired jazz of the Scottish musicians Fergus McCreadie (piano) and Matt Carmichael (tenor sax).
Lyricism and strong melody are paramount and like its immediate predecessor this is also a piece with a strong narrative arc. Following a gentle opening ‘fanfare’ Harris’ acoustic bass takes the lead in the early stages, sketching out a folk inspired melody that is expanded upon by piano and soprano sax. The track represents Anderson’s first recording on soprano and he impresses with his first excursion on the ‘straight horn’ as he stretches out in gently probing fashion. Palau takes over at the piano, demonstrating an expansive lyricism with a flowing solo.

“The Conversation” is Anderson’s second ‘urban’ composition and is suitably busy, bustling and complex, with the leader soaring on tenor above a complex rhythmic backdrop. It’s very different in style and feel to the two pieces that immediately precede it. The leader stretches out on tenor in suitably Rollins-like fashion as Davis drums up a storm around him. Palau then takes over at the piano, his inherently lyrical style contrasting well with the urgent bustle of bass and drums. As part of a typically multi-faceted composition there’s also something of a feature for Davis, but his skilfully constructed ‘solo’ represents more than just percussive fire power.

Doe’s “Albatross” employs a more obviously song like construction incorporating glacial minimalist style piano, contemporary, hip hop inspired bass and drum grooves and the warm, smoky, melodic sound of Anderson’s tenor sax. As it takes on an increasingly anthemic quality, first expressed by Anderson’s tenor soaring over an increasingly propulsive rock influenced groove the wordless voices of the four band members come in to sing the core melody. It represents Anderson’s vocal début on record, and probably that of the other guys too.

Just to avoid any confusion or controversy Anderson informs us that closing track “The Idiot” is named for the Dostoevsky novel rather than the Iggy Pop album. I’m glad we can all be clear about that.
Gently ushered in by Davis at the drums it’s performed in the style of a jazz standard with the leader adopting a warm, conversational tone on the tenor. Harris takes the first solo, a highly dexterous excursion on acoustic bass. It’s a lengthy offering that paves the way for similarly expansive outings for Palau at the piano and Anderson on tenor.

“The Town and the City” represents a very worthy follow up to “Rambling”. The decision to focus on the playing of the core quartet works well, despite the excellence of the contributions by the various guests on the previous album.

The album succeeds thanks to a combination of consistently excellent playing and intelligent and varied writing. The difference in styles between the ‘urban’  or ‘American’ pieces such as “Swagger” and “The Conversation” forms an effective contrast with the more lyrical or ‘European’ items such as “Ode To Europe” and “Northern Journey”. The Jamie Doe song offers even more variety while “The Idiot” represents a return to jazz basics. All in all it represents an excellent example of how wide ranging the contemporary tenor sax quartet can be.

Anderson’s album notes focus on the ‘live’ nature of the recording and the prospect of seeing this quartet performing this music in the live environment is a very appealing one. Produced by Anderson and Matt Roberts and engineered by Nick Taylor and Chris Lewis the album sound is crisp and immediate and captures the quartet’s strengths well.

The only live show scheduled for the quartet at the time of writing is an appearance at Peggy’s Skylight in Nottingham scheduled for Thursday 7th July 2022. Be there if you can.

blog comments powered by Disqus