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Paul Towndrow

Out of Town

by Ian Mann

May 23, 2006


The fruits of these labours should be well worth hearing.

Every year the Stroller programme at Brecon Jazz Festival delivers at least one outstanding surprise when you discover an artist or band so talented you wonder why you’ve never heard of them before. In 2004 that artist was the young Scottish alto saxophonist Paul Towndrow.

Towndrow played a brilliant, barnstorming set in the packed back room of the Castle Hotel that for me was undoubtedly THE gig of that years Stroller ticket. The precocious and outrageously youthful looking Towndrow exhibited total control of his instrument and played with a confidence and exuberance belying his tender years. With the equally young and talented Gwilym Simcock guesting on piano there was no doubt we were watching two stars of the future at work.

The young Scot proved so popular with his Celtic cousins that later in the year he was invited back to Wales to play at Torfaen Jazz Society’s “Jazz In The Park” Festival. He played another fine gig, but the setting, in a rather chilly marquee dissipated his impact in comparison to Brecon.

This year Towndrow appeared at Cheltenham as part of the “Jerwood Rising Stars” programme which unfortunately I was unable to attend. However I’m sure he acquired a host of new converts as the “Rising Stars” programme is usually very well attended and tends to bring out the best in the musicians, especially someone like Towndrow who has chops to spare.
Towndrow’s debut album “Colours” confirmed his ability as a player and also exhibited his potential as a composer. The new album “Out Of Town” takes things a stage further.

Released on Towndrow’s own Keywork label it features an all-original programme of eight Towndrow compositions. Towndrow is joined by fellow Scot Steve Hamilton, an experienced pianist who has played with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks among many others. Another compatriot, Alyn Cosker fills the drum chair. The in demand Cosker is quickly establishing a big reputation for himself and on the evidence of this recording it’s easy to see why. Bassist Michael Janisch, an American émigré now based in London, completes the quartet.

The album opens with the bold fanfare of ” Rubix Cube” featuring the squall of Towndrow’s alto and Cosker’s dynamic drumming. The main body of the piece subsequently features Janisch on bowed bass and a rippling piano solo from Hamilton, all pushed along by Cosker’s busy, driving drums.

“Signs Of Life” begins quietly but is a slow burner of a piece featuring Towndrow’s considerable abilities on soprano sax.
The labyrinthine “Tricky Trev” introduces some humour to the proceedings. An insistent vamp has you leaping out of your armchair convinced that the CD’S got stuck only for the theme to kick back in. “Hah! Fooled you” it seems to say. Very tricky, that Trev. Both this track and the following “Say As I Do” are features for the effervescent Cosker’s powerful drumming. Hamilton’s piano and the leader’s alto show up strongly too.

The atmospheric “Cryogenics” features Towndrow’s probing soprano and Hamilton’s delicate piano and also reveals the subtle side of Cosker’s playing.

“High Point” is a breezy romp featuring Towndrow’s busy alto and more pyrotechnics from that man Cosker.
“Trivia” combines several moods and tempos from the light and airy to the reflective and brooding. Janisch who is excellent throughout again features on bowed bass.

“East Wall Base” closes the album. Slow burning and rhythmically complex it is a fine vehicle for Towndrow’s exploratory alto.
The playing throughout this album is exemplary. Towndrow’s compositions although loosely in the bop framework cover a variety of moods, styles and tempos - sometimes in the course of one tune. He is already a strong composer, full of ideas, but there is the potential for even greater things to come. Towndrow is currently writing for a sextet including another saxophone (tenor presumably) and trumpet and also for the Brass Jaw saxophone quartet. The fruits of these labours should be well worth hearing.

The Scottish jazz scene remains strong with some incredible musicians on both the Edinburgh and Glasgow scenes. However the collapse of Tom Bancroft’s Caber Label which released some excellent albums by Scottish musicians is something of a setback.

Towndrow has the potential to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot and mentor the tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith who took time out to do a fine engineering job on this record. Smith has acquired an international reputation and there is no doubt that Paul Towndrow has the ability to do the same.

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