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Mark Lockheart

Moving Air

by Ian Mann

April 20, 2006


A thoroughly excellent album by a very talented musician and composer.

Saxophonist Mark Lockheart has been a major figure in British jazz for over 20 years now but is still a relatively unsung hero, despite having first come into prominence as a member of the wonderful Loose tubes in the mid 80s.

He later worked with ex-Tube Django Bates in his big band Delightful Precipice, but in 1993 formed the Perfect Houseplants with pianist Huw Warren, drummer Martin France and bassist Dudley Phillips. This band introduced Mark as a composer and the Houseplants continue to this day with their whimsical, folk influenced, very British style of jazz, and have released a number of very enjoyable albums.

Lockheart has also recorded two albums with his eleven piece Scratch Band “Through Rose Coloured Glasses” (1998) and ” Imaginary Dances” (2001). His writing for this larger ensemble is excellent.

At present he is very much in the spotlight as one half of the twin saxophone front line of drummer Sebastian Rochford’s high profile, award-winning group Polar Bear.

Lockheart had also worked alongside Huw Warren with the great folk singer June Tabor and with various pop and rock acts including Prefab Sprout and Radiohead but, for this third album under his own name, Lockheart has picked a tried and tested team of old colleagues-guitarist John Parricelli ex Loose Tubes and Scratch Band, bassist Dudley Phillips ex Perfect Houseplants and Scratch Band, and drummer Martin France ex all three!

The material consists of nine original compositions by Lockheart and is characteristically unhurried and very British, although not as self consciously quirky as the Houseplants.

There is an air of chamber jazz about the music and the emphasis is very much on ensemble playing and composition rather than flashy soloing. The hand picked band prove the perfect foil for Lockheart’s vision. Parricelli contributes tasteful Frisell like guitar and takes a couple of understated solos. France, who seems capable of playing anything, shows a delightfully delicate cymbal touch on the slower pieces and an effortless polyrhythmic swing on faster tunes such as the opening “Tell Me Why” and “Brave New World.” Phillips who is rock steady throughout ably supports him.

Lockheart himself, a consummate technician plays superbly. Judicious use of overdubbing sees him adding clarinets and keyboards to his instrumental palette.

Lockheart’s ability as a tenor player is well known but his use of clarinet here is a revelation especially on “When The Fire Burns Low”, a masterful duet with drummer France. His sonorous bass clarinet is featured on “Strange Remark” and the album closer “Light Years”. Although no virtuoso his keyboard playing adds some effective textures especially on “Dreamland.”

Overdubbing means that Lockheart can mix the sounds of the various reeds together which he does with great skill. This is particularly effective on “Tell Me Why” and “One And Only”.

When touring the album Lockheart augmented the album line-up with multi-reedsmen Julian Siegel, Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend. I was sorry not to make the tour as I gather the gigs were magnificent.

Lockheart continues to develop as a composer and a great deal of skill and care has gone into the writing and arranging here. Sometimes the writing is reminiscent of Django Bates or John Surman, but in the main is highly individual. One or two tunes could do with a little more uplift although they probably got this with the touring band.

A thoroughly excellent album by a very talented musician and composer.

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