by Ian Mann
March 27, 2013
A swinging, unpretentious album with some excellent playing from a highly competent pool of musicians.
(SaySo Records SEHS005CD)
Bassist Tim Thornton is a familiar figure on the UK jazz scene playing both the acoustic and electric versions of his chosen instrument with a wide variety of musicians and bands. Born into a musical family Thornton is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and is now based in London where he regularly performs with the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars led by pianist James Pearson as well as being an in demand sideman right across the jazz spectrum.
He has appeared on albums by vocalist Emma Smith, trumpeter Steve Fishwick, clarinettist Julian Bliss, alto saxophonist Katie Brown, vocalist/guitarist Joe Pisto and the jazz vocal group Sector 7 featuring singer Sarah Ellen Hughes. “New Kid”, first released in 2011, appears on Hughes’ SaySo record label but the album is an all instrumental affair featuring imaginative arrangements of jazz standards and a smattering of Thornton originals. Thornton deploys a shifting personnel including Fishwick on trumpet and Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax. Piano duties are shared between Ross Stanley and Grant Windsor with Chris Draper handling the majority of the drumming (Dave Hamblett replaces him on one track). The album was recorded at O’Higgins’ JVG Studio and as well as performing the saxophonist also carried out engineering, mixing and mastering duties.
Thornton’s liner notes shed some light on the tunes beginning with the opening title track which Thornton dedicates to two of his all time favourite saxophone players, jazz greats Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. It is appropriate that O’Higgins should be involved, adding his muscular tenor sound to this intensely rhythmic hard bop styled piece that develops from Windsor’s opening piano figure. O’Higgins takes the room to stretch out productively and he’s followed by Windsor’s feverish solo as Thornton and Draper stoke the rhythmic fires.
If Thornton was content to remain part of the ensemble on the opener he then steps out of the shadows on his version of Brook’s Bowman’s “East Of The Sun” in an arrangement specifically designed as a bass feature. It’s the only trio track on the album with the bassist accompanied by Stanley at the piano and Hamblett at the drums. Thornton demonstrates the qualities that have made him such a “go to” bass player, impeccable swing and timing, a broad, warm, meaty tone and an easy dexterity - he concentrates on the acoustic bass throughout the album. The always excellent Stanley shines briefly and Hamblett provides understated but consistently interesting accompaniment. The tune was recorded at an earlier date than the rest of the album but Thornton liked the vibe so much that he felt he had to include it.
Thornton also allows himself plenty of soloing room on an arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s “When Will The Blues Leave” which also features O’Higgins, Stanley and Draper. Thornton’s notes speak of his quartet utilising the spaces Coleman left in the melody adding “this is always great fun live as you never know what tempo you’ll end up in!”. The group certainly vary things here, moving up and down the gears on solos by Thornton, Stanley and O’Higgins.
Fishwick is added to the quartet for Thornton’s arrangement of the jazz standard “My One And Only Love”. The tune is normally performed as a ballad but Thornton moves away from this with a more forceful arrangement in 7/4 that allows Fishwick to demonstrate his fluency on the trumpet alongside similarly satisfying solos from Stanley, O’Higgins and Thornton. Thornton describes his arrangement as “exploring the sometimes dustier corners of the tune” but it still sounds great.
O’Higgins sits out the Thornton original “What’s Yours Is Mine”, an appealing tune based around a chord sequence devised by the bassist. Fishwick and Stanley are again in inspired form with dazzling solos above subtly propulsive bass and drums. The composer also allows himself a pithy solo at the bass, a timely reminder of who’s album this is.
The arrangement of Joe Greene’s “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’” was inspired by the version by Ray Charles. Thornton explains that he was “looking for a song in 3 to go on the album” and re-arranged the Charles version as a “sort of Gospel Waltz”. The piece allows O’Higgins the opportunity to demonstrate his warm “ballad” tone on the tenor and Thornton is at his most lyrical on his bass solo. Windsor adds an agreeable blues element and unsung hero Draper adds “just right” support.
Thornton describes his original “Bell Common” as “an homage to my favourite motorway tunnel, the Bell Common Tunnel on the M25, 560 yards of tarmacadam heaven”. Is he being ironic or should we be getting rather worried about him? The tune itself is initially less frenetic than one might think and continues the slightly bluesy vibe established on the Ray Charles piece. It’s the same personnel with O’Higgins again impressing, he really build up a head of steam once he gets going.
The unusual arrangement of the jazz standard “I Only Have Eyes For You” is based around a vamp that Thornton wrote at the piano. The piece features Fishwick and O’Higgins working effectively in tandem as well as delivering excellent solos and there’s a closing drum feature from the ever supportive Draper.
The song “It Only Happens Once” was a huge hit for singer Frankie Laine back in the 1940’s. Thornton’s instrumental version was inspired by a later jazz recording of the tune by vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Played at a slowed down tempo relished by Thornton the piece offers excellent interplay and solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Windsor at the piano plus a superb Thornton bass feature.
The album is rounded off by two Thornton originals. “A Scene For Dreaming” is an impressionistic ballad featuring Thornton’s rounded bass tones, O’Higgins’ breathy tenor and and pianist Stanley at his most lyrical, all accompanied by Draper’s subtle brushwork.
“Southpark Avenue” is a rousing bebop style finale with Thornton’s propulsive bass fuelling lively solos from O’Higgins on earthy tenor sax and Stanley at the piano. It’s also appropriate that the leader enjoys a final bass feature.
“New Kid” is a swinging, unpretentious album with some excellent playing from a highly competent pool of musicians. It’s very much Thornton’s album and his bass sounds superb throughout and is featured extensively but not overbearingly so. These qualities allied to a clutch of good original tunes plus an imaginative and colourful set of arrangements of outside material make for a very promising and highly enjoyable album. There’s nothing startlingly original here but it’s an album I find myself returning to as Thornton and his colleagues subtly update orthodox jazz virtues.blog comments powered by Disqus