by Ian Mann
September 24, 2018
A highly accomplished album, “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer.
(Edition Records EDN1117)
The young saxophonist and composer Tom Barford was the recipient of the 2017 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, winning the approval of judges Evan Parker, Dave Stapleton and Nick Smart with Parker commenting; “We are witnessing the birth of a new star in the jazz firmament”.
Born into a musical family Barford began learning the saxophone at nine, later progressing into the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating from the Jazz Course with First Class Honours in 2017.
I first encountered Barford’s playing in 2016 when he led his quintet Asterope at Brecon Jazz Festival as part of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme curated by jazz educator Marc Edwards. The line up was essentially the same one that graces “Bloomer”, but the prolific Barford has written a whole raft of new material in the intervening two years, none of the compositions that were played at Brecon actually appear on this début.
“Bloomer” sees Barford joined by fellow Academy alumni Billy Marrows (guitar), Rupert Cox (piano), Flo Moore (double bass) and Dave Storey (drums), Asterope in all but name.
Besides this quintet Barford also leads a quartet featuring fellow tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock together with a rhythm section comprised of bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren.
Barford is also a prolific sideman who has worked with groups led by pianists Barry Green and Alberto Palau, bassist Mark Trounson, trombonist Olli Martin and alto saxophonist Tom Smith. Barford and Martin were recently part of the Smith led septet that appeared at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival, an event that forms part of my Festival coverage here;
Others with whom Barford has worked include the Guy Barker Big Band and the London Super Sax Project. He has shared a stage with his saxophone mentors Evan Parker and Iain Ballamy and recently made a cameo appearance on “Juniper” the latest release from Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera project.
Keyboard player and composer Stapleton is also the boss of Edition Records and part of the prize for winning the Wheeler Award is the opportunity to record an album for the label. With “Bloomer” Barford takes full advantage of his success to deliver a highly accomplished album that will surely place this hugely talented young musician firmly on the jazz map. The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with engineer Alex Killpartrick ensuring that the finished product exhibits the high technical standards we have come to expect from Edition. Ballamy acts as producer and also plays a key role in the success of the recording.
Besides Parker and Ballamy Barford also cites the influence of US based saxophonists Seamus Blake and Chris Potter but the music on “Bloomer” is unmistakably British and very much Barford’s own.
The album kicks off with the title track, with Moore and Storey setting up an add meter groove around which Marrows and Cox sketch darting melodic phrases as Barford plays longer melody lines behind them. In what is evidently a well balanced and highly democratic group pianist Cox is the first to catch the ear before Barford embarks on a more extended tenor solo, initially in the saxophone trio format. The young award winner immediately impresses with his inventiveness and fluency and Storey also attracts the attention of the listener with some nimble and imaginative drumming.
Barford’s writing impresses with its variety and the following “Space To Dream” is echoey and atmospheric with the leader’s sax sounding vaguely Garbarek-like as Marrows adds ambient guitar washes and Cox glacial piano tinklings. Meanwhile Storey again impresses, this time in the role of colourist.
Unaccompanied piano introduces “Phizzwizard”, a pleasantly quirky piece that sees the leader switching to soprano sax. There’s a gentle, genial sense of whimsicality about the music that recalls the pastoral, folk tinged jazz that Ballamy, Django Bates, Julian Arguelles and Mark Lockheart all explored after the initial break up of Loose Tubes. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Marrows is pretty and understated, subsequently leading to an uplifting exchange of melodic ideas between the guitarist and Barford on soaring, swooping soprano.
The lengthy “F Step” begins with the sound of Barford’s tenor in dialogue with Storey’s drums, a nod perhaps to near contemporaries Binker and Moses. Indeed there’s an edgy, urban urgency about the music with its M-Base type stylings and hip hop inspired grooves. Barford’s opening tenor salvo has been compared to the playing of a young Sonny Rollins and he’s matched in terms of both intensity and fluency by the solos of both Marrows and Cox, with the guitarist’s playing exhibiting a strong rock influence. Meanwhile Moore and Storey combine to give the music an unstoppable forward momentum.
Introduced by Cox at the piano “Music For An Imagined Film” features Barford on soprano, initially in a delightful extended duet with pianist Cox. Both musicians excel on a piece that combines a bucolic beauty with gently evocative cinematic imagery. The rest of the group only enter the picture fairly late in the piece, with Marrows’ icily elegant guitar adding another distinctive instrumental voice.
“Razztwizzler Ahead” is a rousing tenor led fanfare that segues immediately into “Razztwizzler” itself. Cox is credited with ‘piano’ but doubles up to make a small but judicious use of electric keyboards on the title track. Here he switches to a full on organ sound on one of the album’s most up-tempo pieces, one that toys with both funk and prog rock. Cox’s psychedelic Hammond sounds feature strongly as he shares the solos with Marrows’ turbo-charged blues rock guitar. Barford adds some punchy sax riffing but largely keeps a low profile as Cox and Marrows relish the opportunity to wig out.
By way of contrast “Ideology”, a succinct dedication to Iain Ballamy, sees Barford returning to more pastoral territory, his melodic saxophone meditations complemented by Marrows’ astute chording and the shimmer of Storey’s deft cymbal work.
Barford has a good way with a title and the album ends with the marvellously named “The Highly Strung Trapeze Artist”. The piece combines conventional jazz virtues with judicious splashes of electronic effects, the latter courtesy of Marrows’ guitar. Moore’s bass motif anchors the piece and she also gets to enjoy her only real feature of the album with a melodic double bass solo. The leader’s tenor also features on a piece that again exhibits an engaging quirkiness and which is as imaginative and multi-faceted as any on the album.
Taken as a whole “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer. As a player he clearly has technique to burn but it’s his writing skills that suggest that he’s going to be a major presence on the British jazz scene for many years to come. The album explores a wide range of jazz styles, which makes for a varied and consistently engaging listen, but Barford puts his own stamp on all of them. He’s already developed a highly personal musical voice that is very much his own.
The leader receives excellent support from a hugely talented band of young musicians, some of them bandleaders in their own right, with Ballamy’s production ensuring that all are heard at their best. The standard of the musicianship is superb throughout with all the members of the quintet making substantial contributions to the success of the album.
Barford and the quintet will be touring in the UK to promote the album. For details of dates please visit http://www.tombarford.comblog comments powered by Disqus