by Ian Mann
February 02, 2023
The balance between formal composition and improvisational flare is excellent, with the sextet and their guests rewardingly exploring musical elements that embrace jazz, rock, classical & electronica.
“Redefining Element 78”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4796)
Rebecca Nash – piano, keyboards, John O’Gallagher – alto sax, Nick Malcolm – trumpet, Jamie Leeming – guitar, Paul Michael – electric bass, Matt Fisher – drums
with Nick Walters and Chris Mapp (electronics)
Pianist and composer Rebecca Nash has been a fairly regular presence on The Jazzmann web pages, both as a bandleader and as a sidewoman.
In 2019 she released “Peaceful King” (Whirlwind Recordings), her début album as a leader, which was recorded with her band Atlas, a quintet featuring trumpeter Nick Malcolm, drummer Matt Fisher, bassist Chris Mapp and guitarist Thomas Seminar-Ford. The album also featured guest contributions from Sara Colman (vocals) and Nick Walters (electronics).
Nash is a performer with close links to the music scenes of several British cities, among them Bristol, London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester. The Atlas line up reflected this and included musicians from several different parts of the UK. My review of the excellent “Peaceful King” can be found here;
Nash and drummer Fisher go back a long way and first worked together on the London scene. Both are integral components of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s quintet “Entropi”, appearing on both of that band’s album releases, “New Era” (2015) and “Moment Frozen” (2017). Both of these albums are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann, as are a number of live performances by the band.
Nash has also worked regularly with Nick Walters’ Paradox Ensemble and with Sara Colman’s band. She appears on Colman’s 2021 album “Ink On A Pin – A Celebration of Joni Mitchell” and on Colman’s earlier album “What We’re Made Of (2018), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
She also appears with vocalist Rosalie Genay on the 2013 album “Realms”, an exploration of the music of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.
Nash is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has undertaken teaching roles with the National Youth Jazz Collective, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham Jazzlines and Cheltenham Festivals.
As part of Cheltenham Jazz Festival’s 2021 ‘Jazzstream’ she led the all female ensemble Rise Up, a sextet featuring Nash alongside some of her former students. The creation of the ensemble was made possible by Jazzlines, a charitable offshoot of Town Hall / Symphony Hall, Birmingham and the resultant livestream featured the musicians in both conversation and performance.
Nash has also proved to be a great friend of Brecon Jazz Festival having occupied the piano chair in the Festival Big Band on a regular basis under the baton of various leaders, notably trumpeter Steve Waterman and trombonist Gareth Roberts. She has also appeared as part of a sextet led by bassist and composer Paula Gardiner.
At the socially distanced 2021 Brecon Festival she appeared with Dee Byrne as the co-leader of a quartet that also featured Fisher at the drums, plus bassist Will Harris. The music played included material from Byrne’s Entropi quintet, Nash’s “Peaceful King” album, and a sneak preview of some of the music from “Redefining Element 78”. It was an excellent performance and is reviewed here as part of my Festival coverage;
The Nash / Byrne performance was centred around a scientific theme and reflected Byrne’s fascination with space and cosmology and Nash’s with chemistry. The music on “Redefining Element 78” was written as the result of a commission from Bristol Jazz Festival and is a suite inspired by the “confluence of sound and science”. Based upon the Periodic Table it centres around the precious metals of the Platinum Group, i.e. Platinum, Osmium, Rhodium, Iridium, Ruthenium and Palladium.
I had expected Byrne to be part of the group that recorded the “Redefining Element 78” suite but instead the alto chair is filled by the American saxophonist John O’Gallagher, a musician who is also an acclaimed educator and musical theorist. Currently based in the UK O’Gallagher holds a teaching post at Birmingham Conservatoire, as does Nash, and his ideas have had a profound influence on the music of “Redefining Element 78”, as Nash explains;
“I was reading John O’Gallagher’s book - a method for using tone rows in jazz - and by exploring how I could use his approach on the atomic numbers of the six metals, I found this new and exciting musical terrain.”
O’Gallagher’s fascination with the tone row also informs his own 2013 Whirlwind Recordings release “The Anton Webern Project”. Review here;
In addition to leading his own groups O’Gallagher has also been a key presence in bands led by another UK based American, the great drummer and composer Jeff Williams, also a musician with links to the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.
The personnel on “Redefining Element 78” also includes Atlas members Nick Malcolm and Matt Fisher, with Paul Michael coming in on bass. The guitar chair is taken by Jamie Leeming, a rising star who has previously impressed through his work with drummer Jas Kayser and as a member of pianist, composer, producer and rapper Alfa Mist’s band. The sound of the core sextet is augmented by the electronics provided by two old friends, Nick Walters and Chris Mapp.
“Redefining Element 78” is a ‘suite’ in the literal sense with a melodic theme that appears in different guises on various different tracks. That theme first surfaces on the opening track, “Platinum 1”, Platinum being number 78 in the Periodic Table. This relatively short piece acts as a kind of ‘overture’, juxtaposing the loose rhythmic structures of free jazz with the powerful melodic theme, as stated by the horns.
Although much of the material is tightly structured and arranged there is also scope for improvisation, as exemplified by Malcolm’s superb unaccompanied trumpet intro to the more substantial “Osmium”, a piece that demonstrates the gentler, more introspective side of Nash’s writing. The lonely ring of Malcolm’s horn, a sound that harks all the way back to “Kind of Blue”, sets the mood for a delightfully melodic piece that opens out to feature a flowingly lyrical piano solo from the leader and a highly inventive guitar solo from Leeming that soars and spirals as the music takes on an almost anthemic quality.
Malcolm’s electric bass introduces “Rhodium”, a harder hitting track with a more aggressive group sound. The bassist combines with Fisher’s nimble but insistent drumming to create a strong groove that forms the platform for powerful solos from Leeming and O’Gallagher. The young guitarist’s sound incorporates a strong rock influence and he also makes good use of his range of effects pedals. Leeming’s playing is impressive throughout the album and his solo here has attracted comparisons with the great John McLaughlin. Michael and Fisher also underpin O’Gallagher’s incisive alto solo and it’s the rhythm section that steers the track home once the storm has blown itself out. The performance also benefits from a sprinkling of electronic fairydust, courtesy of Nick Walters.
Electronics also feature on “Iridium II”, which is described as “an accidental offshoot” of the later “Iridium 1”. It’s another relatively short piece and features Nash’s classically inspired acoustic piano meditations, these bathed in a gentle electronic soundwash, possibly with a soupçon of guitar FX in there too. It’s an effective contrast and the piece is possessed of a tranquil, if slightly chilly, beauty.
The delicate piano continues on the unaccompanied introduction to “Ruthenium”, with Nash eventually joined by the rest of the band as the music slowly begins to gather momentum. The piano continues to lead until the music finally moves up a gear with the introduction of the horns. Nash then takes a more conventional jazz piano solo before handing over to O’Gallagher, who probes deeply on alto, his tone dry and slightly abrasive.
It’s O’Gallagher that opens “Iridium 1” with a passage of unaccompanied alto sax, now softer and more meditative in tone. Mapp adds a subtle layer of electronica and Fisher joins in on brushed drums as the music slowly continues to develop, the rest of the band gradually coming on board.
It’s all loosely structured and sounds as if it may be largely improvised, but with a recognisable structure gradually beginning to emerge as the music slowly gathers intensity. Fisher is then given the opportunity to circumnavigate his kit, his percussive explorations underpinned by a simple horn motif.
Unaccompanied piano introduces “Platinum II”, with Nash undertaking a solo piano exploration of the themes of all the pieces thus far, before re-introducing the main theme as the rest of the band enter the equation. There’s a beautiful solo from Malcolm, accompanied by piano only, who then hands over to O’Gallagher on alto. The saxophonist’s solo also enjoys the support of bass and drums, before the whole sextet coalesce around the main theme to bring the music home.
The album concludes with “Palladium – Noble Heart”, the title presumably referencing the fact that all of the six elements that Nash addresses are described as ‘noble metals’. It’s a simple, disarmingly beautiful piece, introduced by guitar, piano and electric bass, with Michael emerging as a soloist, his sound liquidly melodic. Malcolm then takes over on trumpet, the fluency and elegance of his playing here having evoked comparisons with the late, great Kenny Wheeler. The trumpeter also combines effectively with O’Gallagher as the piece continues to unfold. Centred around Leeming’s recurrent guitar motif there’s a gently elegiac / anthemic quality about this piece that makes it the perfect album finale.
With “Redefining Element 78” Nash builds upon the success of “Peaceful King” to create an even better album. The overall concept helps to give the new record an even greater cohesiveness and although the subjects of tone rows and noble metals might seem to be intellectually challenging there’s nothing stuffy or overly academic about the music, which remains eminently accessible throughout, with Nash exhibiting a strong ear for melody.
All the musicians perform well and the balance between formal composition and improvisational flare is excellent, with the sextet and their guests rewardingly exploring musical elements that variously embrace jazz, rock, classical and electronica.
The album represents a substantial artistic achievement and deserves to do well. It will be officially launched with a performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London on Thursday, February 16th 2023.
The recording is available from;