by Ian Mann
June 06, 2013
A very enjoyable taster for MST's music. The choices of material and the subsequent arrangements are consistently interesting.
Moonlight Saving Time
“Moonlight Saving Time”
My recent favourable review of Bristol based saxophonist Kevin Figes’ latest quartet album “Tables And Chairs” seems to have made quite an impression on the musical community in the city and the South West as a whole. Since the review was published a number of musicians from that part of the world have forwarded me their works for consideration. I intend to look at new albums by saxophonist Pete Canter and pianist Jim Blomfield shortly but have chosen to begin with the eponymous début EP of the group Moonlight Saving Time, the band name comes from the title of an obscure Blossom Dearie tune.
Led by vocalist Emily Wright the group have just embarked on a UK tour so now represents a good time to take a look at their work. This CD was forwarded to me by Will Harris, bassist with the Kevin Figes Quartet and concurrently a member of MST, thanks Will.
Wright and Harris are joined by a coterie of the South West’s finest players including trumpeter Nick Malcolm , pianist Dale Hambridge, guitarist Jon Hyde and in demand drummer Mark Whitlam. The sound of the core sextet is augmented by guest percussionist Rory Francis.
At present the group concentrate on mainly outside material but their appearances at both Brecon and Oxford Jazz Festivals have drawn compelling amounts of critical acclaim. They’re versatile enough to have been given a slot at Glastonbury too. The arrangements, either by Harris or by the group as a whole give the musicians plenty of room to stretch out whilst still fully utilising the clarity and flexibility of Wright’s voice.
The EP commences with Harris’ arrangement of the much covered Mongo Santamaria/Oscar Brown Jr. composition “Afro Blue”, perhaps most famously associated with John Coltrane. MST’s take on the tune is perhaps less celebratory than usual, there’s a coolness and pensiveness that comes from Malcolm’s elegant Miles-ian trumpet on the initial instrumental statement, though it has to be said that he builds up a fair head of steam as the solo develops. Wright’s understated vocals display a similar cool elegance as the patter of Francis’ percussion augments the group sound and brings a degree of low key exotica.
Also arranged by Harris “Footsteps in the dark” is an unusual and innovative take on the Isley Brothers’ soul classic. Wright’s appealing vocals are supplemented by Hambridge’s rippling Rhodes solo and Whitlam’s neatly energetic drumming.
“Douala” represents an excellent piece of vocalese with Wright adding her own words to a piece by the leading American jazz guitarist David Gilmore who has played with pianist Vijay Iyer and many others top US names. However it’s Dale Hambridge who emerges as the main instrumentalist here with a flowing and expansive solo. I first encountered Hambridge’s playing only recently when he was part of a pick up band backing singer Sarah Ellen Hughes at a performance in Abergavenny. I was hugely impressed with Hambridge who proved to be an excellent soloist and a sympathetic accompanist who is obviously particularly adept at working with vocalists.
Wright is at her best on a delightful group arrangement of the Hoagy Carmichael jazz standard “Skylark”. MST give the tune an agreeable contemporary twist with Malcolm again in fine form on the trumpet. His relatively straight ahead playing with MST is an interesting contrast to his work with his own quartet (which also includes Harris and Whitlam). The music on his album “Glimmers” veers closer to the free end of the jazz spectrum and is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
The EP concludes with an audacious Harris arrangement of the Chick Corea classic “Open Your Eyes You Can Fly”, a piece I first heard performed by the Gary Burton Quartet back in the 1970’s.
MST tackle the piece in 7/4 with Wright expertly navigating her way around Neville Potter’s lyrics. Guitarist Hyde steps temporarily out of the shadows, Malcolm wanders a little closer to “Glimmers” territory and Harris and Whitlam also enjoy brief cameos
This is a very enjoyable taster for MST’s music and a good calling card for the ongoing tour. There’s nothing earth shattering here but the choices of material and the subsequent arrangements are consistently interesting. The Isley Brothers and David Gilmore pieces represent satifyingly eclectic selections. Reviews of MST’s live performances suggest that they have a far wider repertoire of material with a particular fondness for Chick Corea tunes, his “Spain” also features in their set lists. It’s a shame that they’ve not taken the plunge and recorded a full length album.
There’s enough here to suggest that they will be well worth seeing live and I can certainly vouch for the abilities of many of the musicians having seen Harris, Malcolm, Whitlam and Hambridge perform live in other contexts on previous occasions.
Wright meanwhile also fronts Emily Wright & The Royals, a quartet that performs material from the 1940’s. The group includes Harris on bass plus pianist Mike Willox and guitarist David Archer. It’s an unashamedly retro combo but at the other end of the jazz spectrum the versatile Wright is also a member of the chordless trio Kaleidoscopic along with Harris and Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie. Here Wright deploys her voice as an instrument, Norma Winstone style.
Moonlight Saving Time are currently touring the UK with dates as follows;
6pm Bristol Colston Hall Foyer Colston St
BS1 5AR 0117 922 3686
8pm Swindon Baker Street 25-27 Wood St
SN1 4AN 01793 978011
8pm Shrewsbury Gateway Arts Chester Street
SY1 1NB 01743 355159
9pm Cardiff Café Jazz 21 St Mary St
CF10 1PL 029 2038 7026
8pm Sherborne Sherborne Jazz Club The David Hall
Somerset 01460 240340
6pm Bristol Brass Pig 1 Triangle West
BS8 1EJ 0117 329 4471
8pm London Pizza Express Jazz Club 10 Dean St
W1D 3RW 020 7437 9595
9pm St Ives St Ives Jazz Club Western Hotel
TR26 2ND 01736 795277
time tbc Marlborough Marlborough Jazz Festival Tbc 01672 515 095
7.30pm Manchester Manchester Jazz Festival Festival Pavilion
M2 5DB 0161 228 0662
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