by Ian Mann
May 13, 2015
An attractive début album that embraces a variety of jazz styles and includes some excellent playing.
The Button Band
“The Button Band”
(FMR RECORDS FMRCD373-0214)
Andrew Button is a London based guitarist and composer who formed this jazz quartet named after himself in 2012. The Button Band also includes tenor saxophonist Andrew Woolf, bassist Dave Manington and drummer Jonathan Ormston, like Button all highly active presences on the London music scene.
I have to admit I’m not quite sure about the band name, I know it’s the one Andrew was born with but if I chanced upon this album in the racks I’d probably assume it was by a bunch of accordion toting folkies. It is memorable though - just a thought.
Button has been based in London for fifteen years and as a professional musician plays across a variety of genres from hip hop to West End musicals but his first love is jazz and he cites fellow guitarists Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Brad Shepik as being an influence on his group’s sound. He also references the British bands Loose Tubes and Pigfoot, both of which feature his former totor, trumpeter and composer Chris Batchelor.
As a performer Button has worked with saxophonists Martin Speake, Tori Freestone and James Allsopp, flautist Gareth Lockrane, drummer Tim Giles and fellow guitarist Jim Mullen. He also runs the successful Sunday night jazz sessions at the Salisbury Hotel in North London.
Comprising of seven original compositions by its leader the Button Band’s eponymous début album appears on the FMR label. Button’s tunes are highly melodic and often deploy relatively simple melodies and motifs as the basis for improvisation and, as befits a performer whose press release states that he has played with “musicians from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro” the album embraces a wide variety of jazz music styles.
The album commences with the quirky and whimsical “Half Cal Half Hippo” with Ormston on percussion leading things off and underpinning Woolf’s township jazz style tenor sax melody and Button’s chiming African inspired guitar solo. It’s feel good music, South Africa filtered through the prism of Loose Tubes and and that band’s the various offshoots.
“Clock or Candle” is slower and more reflective but still retains something of that characteristic English whimsy. It’s essentially a chamber jazz piece with Button’s guitar accompanying Woolf’s simple, gently exploratory sax melodies and with the drums only coming in towards the end of the song.
However it’s Ormston who introduces the lively, joyous “Dappled” with its sprightly melodies and spirited solos from Woolf and Button. The perkiness is leavened with occasional flashes of dissonance but overall this is great fun and a piece that is almost certain to be an audience favourite when played live. There’s a strong contribution from Loop Collective member Dave Manington, a highly versatile musician whose presence is an asset to any record.
“Control” re-introduces the more thoughtful side of the band with its gently unfolding folk tinged melodies and with Button deploying a clean, clear guitar sound that is sometimes reminiscent of Bill Frisell, that distinctive “Americana twang” occasionally surfacing. Woolf’s tenor solo is superbly constructed, slow and smouldering at first before exploding into flame towards the end of the tune.
“Various Events” is the album’s lengthiest track and has an angular post bop feel that suggests the influence of Button’s one time mentor Shepik and the contemporary New York jazz scene. Button’s lengthy and inventive solo seems to draw from the styles of leading contemporary guitarists such as Kurt Rosenwinkel and is suitably impressive. Manington also delivers an excellent solo, huge in tone and rich in melody and dexterity. Woolf begins by almost shadowing the bassist before embarking on an imaginative, far reaching solo of his own.
“It Will Happen To You” is an attractive ballad featuring warm hued tenor sax and gently brushed drums. Manington delivers a rich, warm, deeply resonant solo on double bass and combines well with Button’s coolly elegant guitar. Woolf’s tenor occasionally adds a more urgent edge and the stop/start structure of the tune maintains the Button Band’s trademark touch of whimsy.
The closing track, “Again”, begins with brief passage of unaccompanied guitar and is perhaps the most conventional “jazz” piece on the record with Button adopting a classic “jazz guitar” sound for his subsequent solo in conjunction with Manington’s resonant bass and the chatter of Ormston’s drums. The guitarist also links up well with Woolf on tenor sax, the pair sometimes doubling up on the melody line. Woolf’s own solo is delivered with the effortless fluency he displays throughout the record.
“The Button Band” is an attractive début album that embraces a variety of jazz styles and includes some excellent playing. If it has a fault it’s that despite all the talent on show it sometimes sounds a little too polite and bloodless. Yes, there’s humour and whimsy, both endearing qualities, but occasionally I’d have liked to have heard a few more rough edges. Nevertheless there is considerable potential here and I suspect that the musicians may be more inclined to “let themselves go” in the environment of a live performance.
There will be plenty of opportunities for listeners to check out this hypothesis as the band are currently touring the UK in support of the album. The remaining dates are listed below;
13th May - Dempseys, Cardiff
14th May - Soundcellar, Poole
15th May - The Bebop Club, Bristol
16th May - The Daffodil Cheltenham (Midday)
19th May - The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
20th May - The Lescar Sheffield
24th May - Pizza Express Dean Street, London - ALBUM LAUNCH
7th of June - Milestones Jazz Club, Suffolk.
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Cardiff based photographer Martin Healey, whose shots frequently accompany my reviews of shows at Dempsey’s informs me that The Button Band were “terrific” at their Dempsey’s performance. Case proven, I’d say.