by Ian Mann
April 10, 2016
Ridley's gently melodic but rhythmically sophisticated themes provide ideal vehicles for some superb group interplay and some inspired individual soloing.
Matt Ridley Quartet
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4683)
“Metta” represents the second album as a leader by the British double bassist and composer Matt Ridley and is the follow up to well received “Thymos” which was released by Whirlwind in 2013.
“Thymos” was credited to the Matt Ridley Trio and featured a core group of Ridley, pianist John Turville and drummer George Hart. On some pieces they were joined in a guest capacity by the experienced saxophonist Jason Yarde. Yarde has subsequently become a full time member of the group and “Metta” features the same personnel, this time working under the banner of the Matt Ridley Quartet. In 2013 I was lucky enough to see a quartet featuring Ridley, Turville and Yarde, plus drummer Nick Smalley standing in for Hart, performing the “Thymos” material at The Hive in Shrewsbury, a show reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Ridley’s playing first came to my attention back in 2009 at a performance with pianist Will Butterworth’s trio at Presteigne Assembly Rooms.
Ridley then moved on to work with the late, great pianist and composer Michael Garrick (1933-2011) and subsequently with the Lyric Ensemble, a group fronted by singer Nette Robinson and saxophonist Tony Woods dedicated to keeping the “poetry and jazz” aspect of Garrick’s music alive. He is also part of the MJQ Celebration quartet alongside pianist Barry Green, vibraphonist Jim Hart and drummer Steve Brown, a unit that pays homage to both the music of the MJQ and Michael Garrick. Ridley also records and tours internationally as part of a quartet led by pianist Darius Brubeck, son of the jazz immortal Dave Brubeck. Currently he is also playing in a trio led by guitarist and composer Ant Law.
“Thymos” explored aspects of Middle Eastern music, something that came about as the result of Ridley’s collaboration with oud player Attab Haddad who guests on that album. However “Metta” is inspired by Buddhist philosophies, the title meaning ‘goodwill and benevolence’. Ridley has attempted to bring something of those qualities to the music as the group avoids the conventional head/solos/head approach and attempts to tackle something more interactive and all embracing.
Ridley describes the quartet’s music thus;
“considered composed/improvised music which might transport and entertain both listeners and players, creating and involving all in an awareness of the present – that’s something I feel strongly about”.
There’s a suitably calm and meditative quality about the music to be heard on “Metta”, but there’s still plenty of interest going on as the pieces evolve gradually and organically. The compositions frequently make use of repeated motifs and the opening track “Music to Drive Home To” develops from Turville’s arpeggiated solo piano introduction with Ridley and Hart providing subtle, gentle propulsion as Yarde sketches melodic ideas on light and airy soprano saxophone, the instrument on which he specialises exclusively throughout the album. The resultant music is an effective combination of Eastern mysticism and English pastoralism.
The mood continues on the following “Lachrymose” which incorporates a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Turville above a tasteful undertow of double bass and brushed drums. Yarde is again effortlessly melodic on soprano, even as he begins to probe more deeply during the course of his solo. The piece also is also notable for including the first solo of the set from the leader, a highly melodic excursion that pays homage to Ridley’s bass heroes such as Scott La Faro, Gary Peacock, Miroslav Vitous and Ron Carter.
The quartet adopt a more forceful approach on “Mental Cases” as Yarde’s soprano swoops and soars joyously above the driving rhythms created by bass, piano and Hart’s subtle but vigorous drum work. There’s a lively solo from Turville which sees him interacting with Ridley and Hart in a manner that has evoked comparisons with Phronesis, before Yarde takes over again, his playing even more scintillating and mercurial than before.
“Strange Meeting”, introduced by Turville’s unaccompanied piano, restores calm and is essentially a beautiful ballad with Yarde’s airy, lyrical soprano sax complemented by Ridley’s fluent and melodic bass solo. The piece concludes with an eloquent passage of solo soprano from the consistently brilliant Yarde.
“The Labyrinth” sees the quartet upping the energy levels once more and begins with Yarde’s soprano dancing coquettishly above a busy rhythmic backdrop. But the piece has its more reflective moments too, including a concise bowed cameo from Ridley which presages lengthier solos from Yarde and Turville, both of which thrill with their combination of eloquence and invention.
The opening of the title track includes some of the freest music of the set as Yarde’s soprano snakes around Turville’s open ended piano chording, Ridey’s bowed bass and Hart’s skittering drums. Eventually an attractive melodic theme emerges that provides the framework for lengthy solo explorations from Yarde and Ridley plus something of a drum feature for Hart.
The closing “Ebb and Flow” retains something of the contemplative lyrical feel that distinguishes the album as a whole as it develops from a solo piano introduction via a piano/bass duet to embrace the sound of the full quartet. Turville and Yarde both deliver wonderfully fluent and inventive solos and are well supported by the flexible and intelligent rhythm team of Ridley and Hart as the music gathers colour and impetus prior to a delicate diminuendo.
Recorded in the course of a single day in December 2014 by engineer Curtis Schwartz this is an excellent album that embraces both serenity and vitality. The restrained atmosphere of the first two tracks at first made me fear that the album as a whole might seem a little bloodless but pieces like “Mental Cases” and “The Labyrinth” provide welcome injections of pace and variety into a well planned out programme.
Ridley’s gently melodic but rhythmically sophisticated themes provide ideal vehicles for some superb group interplay and some inspired individual soloing with Yarde’s work on soprano offering a particularly distinctive instrumental voice. Ridley’s own solos are richly melodic and inventive but I’d also have liked to have heard a little more from the consistently excellent Turville in a soloist’s role. Having said that his work here as an accompanist is superb throughout, he’s very much the glue that holds the music together.
Ridley is currently touring this music with the quartet and one suspects that these pieces will develop even further in the live environment.
The quartet can be seen and heard at the following venues;
14 April – Cambridge Modern Jazz Club, Hidden Rooms (Cambridge Jazz)
15 April – The Red Lion, Birmingham (Birmingham Jazz)
17 April – The Hen & Chicken, Bristol (JATA)
18 April – Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
4 May – St James’ Club, Swansea (Swansea Jazzland)