by Ian Mann
April 26, 2012
A surprisingly coherent album with fine playing from all three trio configurations.
(Pathway Records PBCD0103)
Originally from the North East of England saxophonist Paul Booth studied jazz at the Royal Academy of Music before becoming a professional musician with links to both the jazz and rock worlds. Booth is a highly versatile and adaptable saxophonist and is a regular member of Steve Winwood’s band. He has also worked with Steely Dan, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and many others.
In a jazz context Booth has cut four albums as a leader including 2007’s excellent “No Looking Back” (Basho Records). He is also part of bassist Michael Janisch’s musical circle and features on Janisch’s equally excellent 2009 release “Purpose Built”. Booth leads his own quintet (with Janisch, guitarist Phil Robson, pianist Phil Peskett and drummer Dave Smith) plus an organ trio featuring Ross Stanley on the Hammond and Andrew Bain at the drums.
With Booth just coming up to 33 at the time of this recording giving the album a numerological theme seemed to be almost an inevitability. Booth originally intended to record a saxophone trio album with American musicians Matt Brewer (double bass) and Clarence Penn (drums), the latter another Janisch associate. However Booth’s fondness for the sound of the Hammond B3 led him to involve his regular trio with Stanley and Bain and from here it was a short step to deciding to work with a third trio, in this case guitarist Phil Robson and percussionist Adriano Adewale. The “Trilateral” concept was thus realised with each trio performing three tracks each. The result is a surprisingly coherent album with fine playing from all three configurations. The material is a mixture of Booth originals, each one written with the specific trio in mind, plus a selection of outside material from Jaco Pastorius, Osvaldo Farres, Charles Mingus and Nick Drake.
Booth travelled to America to record with Brewer and Penn, the tracks being cut at Bennett Studios in Engelwood, New Jersey. Booth had toured with Penn as a member of Janisch’s group and it was Penn who suggested Brewer for the recording. Booth’s notes explain that with this trio he was looking for the “freedom to explore both harmonic and melodic ideas” without the “anchor of a chordal instrument”. He praises Penn and Brewer (he had never worked with the latter before) for a quickly realised cohesiveness which is first captured on the Booth original “Menage A Trois” (there’s that numerical theme again, one which occurs throughout the album via Booth’s choice of material). The piece opens with Brewer’s rich, resonant bass, initially solo but later providing the backbone of the piece as Booth’s tenor slides seductively around it punctuated by Penn’s economical drumming. For all his undoubted pop chops Booth is also a gifted and fluent jazz improviser and he becomes more expansive as the piece proceeds with Penn and Brewer receptive to his every move. Compositionally the piece is highly melodic,structured around a recurring bass motif but with plenty of scope for improvisation. It’s a captivating and wholly convincing way to start the album.
Next up is an engaging version of Jaco Pastorius’ classic composition “Three Views Of A Secret” by the organ trio featuring Ross Stanley and Andrew Bain. Stanley, also a fine pianist, has developed into one of the UK’s “go to” Hammond players, making the instrument sound good in virtually any jazz context. The trio’s take on Pastorius’ tune crosses the soulfulness of classic Blue Note organ jazz with more open ended methods, particularly on a freely structured middle section which sees Booth soloing at length and really pushing the boundaries of the piece. He’s followed by Stanley who takes the opportunity to demonstrate what a fluent and inventive soloist he is shadowed by Bain’s crisp, intelligent drumming. Then it’s over to Booth to take things storming out. Good stuff.
Now we hear the third trio featuring British guitarist Phil Robson and Brazilian born, London based percussionist Adriano Adewale. Their first offering is Booth’s breezy, Brazilian flavoured “Chorino Triangular”. Robson is a highly versatile guitarist working with everyone from the BBC Big Band to his own fiery jazz rock quartet Partisans (co-led with saxophonist Julian Siegel). His lithe acoustic chording and soloing forms the backbone of this piece and coupled with Adewale’s understated percussion gives it its distinctive Brazilian flavour. Booth’s saxophone dances delightfully above the joyful rhythms laid down by his colleagues. It’s light, airy and thoroughly charming.
Penn and Brewer return for the “American” trio’s interpretation of the song “Tres Palabras” by Cuban songwriter Osvaldo Farres ( 1903-85). Brooding solo tenor sax opens the piece with Booth later blowing long, sultry lines above the rich purr of Brewer’s bass and the subtle colouration of Penn’s drums and percussion, some of it played (at a guess) with his bare hands. The mood of the piece is that of a soulful lament with Penn and Brewer the perfect foil to Booth’s gently smouldering tenor. There’s also a stunning bass solo from Brewer, fluent, resonant, highly dexterous and, unusual for a bass solo this, also deeply moving. Arguably the album’s stand out track although there are a number of other possible candidates.
The Booth original"Threes A Crowd” marks the return of the organ trio, this time in more conventional mode on a swinging blues groove featuring enjoyable solos from Booth and Stanley and a closing drum feature for Bain. It’s pleasant enough and a good taster for the trio’s live UK appearances but it’s all a bit “meat and potatoes” and hardly ranks as one of the album’s outstanding tracks.
The Anglo/Brazilian quartet’s interpretation of Nick Drake’s “Three Hours” is far more distinctive. Robson’s delicate acoustic guitar picking again forms the core of the piece with Booth’s long lined soprano capturing something of Drake’s wistful English melancholy. Adewale’s percussion adds delightful, well judged detail, a member of Jonny Phillips’ Oriole plus a group leader in his own right his exotic but always tasteful percussion is an asset to any recording. Booth’s soprano probings give the tune an increasingly jazzy feel as the tune progresses. An inspired adaptation.
I assume that the choice of title for “Three Of A Kind” is a tribute to the empathy that Booth so quickly established with Penn and Brewer. The three are certainly in synch here on a muscular, bop flavoured item inspired perhaps by Sonny Rollins’ classic saxophone trio recordings. Booth solos garrulously on tenor above the interlocking drive of bass and drums. Brewer gets another chance to stretch out and there are a series of colourful drum breaks from the excellent Penn. In 2009 I was lucky enough to see Penn perform with Dave Douglas at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and with Booth as part of Michael Janisch’s group at the Aber Jazz festival in Fishguard. On both occasions he was outstanding, a quite brilliant musician.
The final offering from the organ trio is a smoky, gospel flavoured version of Charles Mingus’ “Three Views Of A Secret” with Stanley’s gospel chording and Bain’s busily brushed drums the backdrop for a highly eloquent Booth tenor solo. Stanley retains the mood for his organ solo, delicate washes of gospel sounds complemented by Bain’s subtle but imaginative brushwork.
Booth describes his writing methods for the Robson/Adewale thus “rather than sit down at the piano or sax to write, I stepped out of my comfort zone, tested my strengths and abilities and wrote only what I heard in my head”. Whilst he always intended for the music to have a Brazilian flavour the results must have exceeded his expectations. “Trident” has a similar charm to the earlier “Chorino Triangular” albeit at a more relaxed tempo. Once again the sound of airy soprano sax, nimble acoustic guitar and exquisitely detailed percussion coalesces to form a winning combination.
With a less busy schedule and in less economically challenging times Booth may have considered making a full length album with each of these combinations and in some respects “Trilateral” represents something of a compromise. . There has been some debate among reviewers about the running order of this album; should Booth have presented each trio in turn or alternated them as here? Some have complained that the record has ended up sounding like a compilation. At the end of the day the conundrum becomes redundant by virtue of the sheer quality of the music on offer with Booth performing with consistent brilliance throughout, superbly supported by his various colleagues. I’ll admit that I’d like to have heard rather more of the New York quartet and it’s a shame that Booth’s visit to the States didn’t produce a full album. However the bond established between the three musicians suggests that this may be something for the future.