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by Ian Mann

December 18, 2006


A relaxed session with beautiful arrangements and quality soloing.

Alto saxophonist Matt Wates has been working in this context for some time and it is amazing to reflect that this is the sextet’s seventh album. Although there have been a number of line up changes over the years this is essentially a working band and this is reflected in the relaxed atmosphere of this session and the easy interaction between the musicians.

I first encountered Wates at the 2002 Brecon Jazz Festival where the sextet as constituted at that time played an excellent set in support of the album “Between The Lines”. The record itself proved to be highly enjoyable as did 2005’s “Ghost Dance”.

The “Ghost Dance” line up has reconvened for “Plum Lane”. Wates is joined in the front line by Steve Kaldestad on tenor sax and Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugelhorn. Leon Greening is at the piano with Malcolm Creese on bass and Steve Brown at the drums. The admirable Creese who heads the excellent Audio-B label is also in the producer’s chair.

In addition to Jimmy Rowles’ beautiful tune “The Peacocks” there are twelve original compositions by Wates who is a prolific writer with an ear for a good tune. All the pieces are lovingly arranged by Wates who ensures that there is room within the framework for some quality soloing. There are also some fine ensemble passages for the three horns.

The style of the band owes something to the Blue Note school of the 50’s and 60’s with Horace Silver and Art Blakey obvious reference points. The sextet is not as fiery as these ensembles but Wates brings a more pastoral and to these ears a very English approach to the style with a greater level of co-operation between the musicians.

There is relaxed vibe to the whole album with Greening, Creese and Brown providing an understated and seemingly effortless swing that supports the front line soloists admirably. Wates’ arrangements enable himself, Shaw and Kaldestad to solo pithily and cogently. Nobody overstays their welcome but there is some fine solo work from all three of them. Greening is excellent throughout the album both as an accompanist and as a soloist. He is a very talented and versatile player. Creese and Brown also shine in their brief moments in the spotlight. However this is no “cutting contest” and the overall band sound is of the utmost importance in Wates’ overall musical vision.

Although “Plum Lane” is the work of a relatively young band it is many ways an “old fashioned” album. It adheres to virtues that are in danger of becoming forgotten such as swing and melody. There is also an air of professionalism in the arrangements that strikes the right balance between overall tightness and allowing room for the soloists to express themselves.

“Plum Lane” is no radical departure and won’t change anybody’s world but it is beautifully crafted and very pleasurable to listen to in it’s own unassuming way.

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