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Sharp Little Bones with Tony Kofi

Sharp Little Bones with Tony Kofi Volumes I & II

by Ian Mann

June 06, 2023


Interesting and accessible. Together with Tony Kofi Sharp Little Bones have delivered a very impressive début and are to be praised for releasing a recording comprised entirely of original music.

Sharp Little Bones with Tony Kofi

“Volumes I & II”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0138)

Simon Paterson – acoustic & electric bass, Paul Deats – piano, Rhodes, synthesiser, Andrew Wood – drums with Tony Kofi – tenor sax

Sharp Little Bones is the name of the trio featuring bassist Simon Paterson, pianist Paul Deats and drummer Andrew Wood.

Together they represent the house trio at the widely acclaimed Peggy’s Skylight jazz venue in Nottingham and have played with many leading jazz musicians from the UK and further afield.

Their collaboration with Nottingham born saxophonist Tony Kofi, a leading figure on the British jazz scene and a leader of his own groups, first came about in 2020 when Kofi joined the trio for a concert that formed part of that year’s Black History month.

A rapport was instantly established and Kofi has continued to be part of the Sharp Little Bones project. Initially the quartet performed a mix of Paterson’s original compositions and material from the repertoire of Herbie Hancock. Eventually the band decided to focus entirely on original material and the programme on this double CD is comprised exclusively of pieces written by Paterson.

Paterson studied classical musical composition and also trained as a sound engineer and producer. As a professional musician playing both acoustic and electric bass he has played in rock and pop groups, function bands and has played and written for TV, theatre and film. He has always loved jazz and as part of the house trio at Peggy’s has delighted in playing a variety of jazz standards with numerous different musicians over the years. Paterson also holds a teaching post at the University of Nottingham, where he heads the Music and Music Technology course.

Paterson’s writing for Sharp Little Bones is rooted in the jazz and bebop traditions but also draws on more contemporary influences, something reflected in Deats’ use of electric keyboards in addition to acoustic piano. Together with vocalist Rachael Foster Deats is the co-founder of Peggy’s Skylight, which was established in 2018 and has quickly become a staple on the Nottingham jazz scene with an excellent reputation for both its food and its music.
During lockdown the venue transmitted a number of high quality livestream performances, some of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site. The club’s website can be found here;

Of his writing for Sharp Little Bones Paterson comments;
“I love melody and I knew the music I wanted to write and perform had to be melodic, accessible and soulful. After all these were the things that attracted me to jazz in the first place. I’m also a music technologist so I’m interested in exploring ways to use technology to enhance musical performances and connect to audiences in subtle but innovative ways”.

As a session musician Paterson appeared on Top of the Pops and performed at Glastonbury and these experiences have informed his opinion that the music he creates should be readily accessible to audiences. The album’s liner notes are written by the esteemed jazz journalist Stuart Nicholson, to whom Paterson explained;
“I’m really interested in exploring that intersection between something that is intellectually valid but engages the audience, that point where music appeals to both the head and the heart. I like melodies that can be hummed or sung. I’m trying to walk the line between originality and simplicity, intrigued by catchy rhythms as well as melody”.

Since dropping the Hancock material from their sets Sharp Little Bones have learned that original music is capable of reaching out to audiences and they have managed to attract a younger demographic in the process.

Paterson has also spoken of the “palpable, visceral feeling” he gets from Kofi’s playing. It’s something that manifests itself over the course of these two discs and the thirteen tunes were recorded over the course of two very hot days at the Metronome studio in Nottingham in the summer of 2022.  Most of the tunes are first takes with the emphasis on feel and energy.

The album commences with the 7/8 groove of “Ury Bop”, a composition based on the Indian folk tale “The Old Woman and the Red Pumpkin”. Introduced by Paterson on bass and with Deats playing Rhodes the piece is infectious and accessible despite the unusual time signature. Kofi connects with a robust tenor solo, followed by Deats, who takes an inventive excursion on Rhodes.
The composer is featured on acoustic bass, with Deats adding synth textures behind him. Drummer Wood is a busy and imaginative presence throughout, offering excellent support to the soloists, whilst still making an impression on his own account.

As its title suggests “Layli’s Lullaby” is rather more laid back and adopts a more mainstream feel. Written in 7/4 it includes a serpentine tenor solo from Kofi and an expansive outing for Deats on acoustic piano. The mixing of acoustic and electric instruments continues with Paterson soloing on electric bass. Drummer Wood is then featured towards the close.

Paterson describes “Stranger Danger” as the most obviously bop tune on the record but explains that it is a contrafact based on the chords of an earlier pop tune that he had written. The piece certainly espouses a bebop feel with Kofi’s tenor leading the way, followed by a sparkling acoustic piano solo from Deats. Kofi then solos more expansively and the impressive Wood is featured again on this “pop tune that has become a bop tune”.

“Brie en Croute” proves to be a beautiful ballad, with Wood deploying brushes throughout. The drummer’s sensitivity is matched by his colleagues, with Deats displaying a delicate touch on acoustic piano. The piece has a song like construction and is performed by the core trio, with Kofi sitting out.

Paterson explains that “Chromatose” (great title) was written to “explore quartal harmony, i.e. harmonic structures built on an interval of a fourth”. Introduced by Paterson and Wood it’s a good example of Paterson’s premise of creating music that is “intellectually valid but engages the audience”. The warmth of Kofi’s tenor sound renders the music accessible, no matter how deeply he probes. Kofi’s solo is followed by that of Deats, who again stretches out effectively on acoustic piano.

“Hiddenness” features what Paterson describes as “a really dirty groove” and at times there’s an aggressive quality about the piece that has even evoked comparisons with King Crimson! Following an arresting intro featuring the powerful sound of Kofi’s sax a neatly constructed solo drum feature emerges. Deats’ acoustic piano playing has more of an orthodox jazz feel about it and his solo is followed by a more expansive tenor solo from Kofi and the return of that “dirty groove”. Throughout the piece Paterson makes effective use of dynamic contrasts and the tune has proved to be a particularly popular live item.

Disc One concludes with “Downfall”, ushered in by the warblings of Deats’ synth. Paterson describes it as one of his simplest compositions, but it’s a piece that his colleagues relished improvising around. The ballad like theme provides the framework for solos from the composer on liquid electric bass and Deats on woozy synth, with Wood deploying brushes throughout. Kofi’s tenor is introduced towards the close, his gently eloquent soloing on an acoustic instrument representing an effective contrast to the sounds of synth and electric bass.

The second disc commences with “Roo’s Blues” a bluesy offering with a funky undertow featuring the sound of Deats on Rhodes. The keyboard player solos on Rhodes and is featured alongside Kofi’s forthright tenor. Some commentators have detected something of a ‘cop show theme’ feel about this tune, which is dedicated to Paterson’s son Rubin. Apparently the earlier “Layli’s Lullaby” is dedicated to his daughter.

The upbeat “Mackerel Sky” continues the funk feel and features Paterson soloing on electric bass before doubling up with Kofi’s tenor on the melody. The saxophonist then stretches out more expansively with an exuberant solo underpinned by an increasingly powerful groove. Wood is also highlighted with a brushed drum feature. It’s highly accessible piece and a good example of Paterson’s ability to write catchy, hummable melodies.

“Troll Stroll” deploys stuttering boogaloo rhythms that are reminiscent of some of the classic Blue Note recordings of the hard bop era, but with Deats’ use of synth adding a contemporary twist. The keyboard player doubles on synth and acoustic piano during his solo. He’s followed by Kofi’s tenor sax solo, although here the synth accompaniment doesn’t really work for me. I find it distracting and whilst I appreciate that it might be a hangover from the band’s days playing Hancock tunes (there’s a hint of “Watermelon Man” and Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” about this track) I feel that for the first time Sharp Little Bones are trying just a bit too hard to be modish.

“Sorceress” is inspired by Wayne Shorter’s writing for the Miles Davis album “ESP” and features Paterson on electric bass. His ostinato playing forms the basis for the track with Deats adding keyboard textures, again combining acoustic and electric sounds. Kofi eventually emerges as a soloist, probing intelligently above the increasingly busy sounds of bass and drums and Deats’ textured keyboards. Once the music has peaked in terms of energy it’s left to Deats to steer things home with a delicate piano / synth coda.

“Trailblazing” is a haunting ballad featuring the eerie sounds of electric bass, synths and delicately brushed drums. Kofi’s tenor again provides an effective acoustic foil, soloing eloquently above the textured backdrop and combining effectively with Paterson’s bass. One passage features the most freely structured playing of the session.

The album concludes with “Blue Finger”, a more conventional jazz blues written from the bottom up and with the focus on rhythm. Again it features the sounds of electric bass and Rhodes which helps to the lend the piece a funky feel. Solos come from Deats on electric piano, followed by Kofi on tenor, with Deats now doubling on synth. Paterson follows on electric bass. The closing section finds the band upping the tempo as Kofi’s tenor soars above a backdrop of whooshing, whistling synths and increasingly dynamic bass and drums. “That’s a take!” exclaims a disembodied voice at the very end.

Sharp Little Bones have delivered a very impressive début and are to be praised for releasing a recording comprised entirely of original music. Composer Paterson succeeds in his mission to write jazz tunes that are both interesting and accessible and he is well served by an excellent band. The core trio all perform well and Kofi’s sax playing helps to take the music to a whole other level. One would imagine that the quartet featured on this recording would also constitute a highly exciting live band.

My only quibble would be that the use of synthesiser sometimes sounded a little gratuitous to these ears, but this is a very minor complaint in the context of a very accomplished double album, and it could also be argued that the use of the synth is symptomatic of the band’s willingness to experiment. All in all a very convincing first offering from the Sharp Little Bones project.

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