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Tom Ollendorff

A Song For You

by Ian Mann

June 01, 2021


Ollendorff''s writing is both intelligent and melodic and the interplay between the leader and the hugely talented rhythm team of Chaplin and Michel is exceptional throughout.

Tom Ollendorff

“A Song For You”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 615)

Tom Ollendorff- guitar, Conor Chaplin – bass, Marc Michel – drums

“A Song For You” represents the recording début as a leader from the young British guitarist and composer Tom Ollendorff.

Now based in London Ollendorff is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD). During his time in Wales (around 2015) I was fortunate enough to witness him performing with a number of local and visiting jazz artists, among them fellow guitarist Deirdre Cartwright, pianist Atsuko Shimada and bassist Aidan Thorne’s band Duski.

Around this time Ollendorff was also responsible for bringing the great Israeli born guitarist Gilad Hekselman over to the UK from New York for a short series of performances, including a memorable trio show (alongside bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jeff Ballard) at a sold out Dempsey’s in Cardiff.

It was also in 2015 that Ollendorff was awarded a Yamaha Scholarship for outstanding jazz musicianship.

Since moving to London Ollendorff has continued to hone his craft and has become an increasingly significant presence on the British and international jazz scenes, appearing regularly at venues and festivals in the UK and across Europe. He has also continued to work with leading American musicians.

Among those with whom Ollendorff has performed are saxophonists Geoff Simkins and Bill McHenry, drummers Ari Hoenig, Jeff Williams and James Maddren, pianist Huw Warren, vocalist Megan Thomas, bassist Or Baraket and fellow guitarists Dave Cliff and Dekel Bor.

Ollendorff continues to maintain his links with Wales and is now a visiting tutor at the RWCMD. “A Song For You” was recorded at Giant Wafer Studios in Wales by engineer Alex Killpartrick. It appears on the Barcelona based label Fresh Sound New Talent, an imprint that rarely features British musicians, thus making its release quite a coup for the young guitarist.

“A Song For You” features Ollendorff’s regular trio of Conor Chaplin on bass and the French born, London based drummer Marc Michel. The material is comprised entirely of Ollendorff originals, with the exception of an arrangement of the Vernon Duke composition “Autumn In New York”.

The album commences with the title track, introduced by Ollendorff’s guitar, soon joined by Chaplin’s anchoring bass and Michel’s neatly detailed drum colourations, featuring the chatter of sticks on rims and the shimmer of splashy cymbals. Chaplin emerges into the limelight with the first real solo of the set, virtuosic, but intrinsically melodic, and supported by the leader’s sympathetic comping and Michel’s ongoing drum commentary. Ollendorff favours a clean, orthodox jazz guitar sound, similar in style and tone to his mentor Gilad Hekselman, or at least Hekselman before his recent experiments with elements of rock and electronica. Following Chaplin’s solo Ollendorff himself stretches out more extensively, demonstrating an impressive, if understated, guitar technique, a blend of sophisticated chording and nimble single note runs.

Besides the Hekselman comparisons it’s also tempting to liken Ollendorff’s music to that of Pat Metheny, and particularly Metheny’s landmark 1975 début “Bright Size Life”. This is exemplified by Ollendorff’s composition “Spring”, which is centred around a recurring, Metheny-esque melodic motif, this forming the basis for the leader’s guitar extemporisations.  Meanwhile Michel’s busy but subtle drum accompaniment owes something to the style of Bob Moses on “Bright Size Life”, particularly with regard to his exquisite cymbal work.

“Etude 1” is a short solo guitar interlude, with Ollendorff delivering a memorable melody within a stream of gently glistening arpeggios.

“Not In These Days” features a combination of a guitar melody and a recurring bass motif, with Chaplin again featuring as a soloist with a dexterous and highly melodic excursion on double bass. Ollendorff then takes over, his guitar soloing as tasteful and inventive as ever. With Michel a busy presence behind and around him this is a piece that epitomises just how well balanced and finely calibrated this group of musicians is as a unit.

Most commentators appear to have singled out “XY” as the album’s stand out track. Here the trio up the energy levels, playing in a more obviously bebop style with Chaplin’s rapid bass walk and Michel’s crisp drum grooves fuelling Ollendorff’s lithe and agile guitar peregrinations. Chaplin also features as a soloist with his most animated bass excursion of the set, while Michel weighs in a with a series of spirited and colourful drum breaks.

Following the welcome dash of exuberance on “XY” the trio’s arrangement of Vernon Duke’s “Autumn In New York” returns them to more reflective territory. An extended passage of unaccompanied guitar introduces the piece, with the leader eventually joined by Chaplin’s resonant bass and Michel’s delicately nuanced drums. There’s a pensive and gently melancholic quality to the performance that is suitably autumnal.

“Aare” is named for a river in Switzerland, a tributary of the Rhine. Ollendorff’s rippling arpeggios simulate the flow of water, and during Michel’s imaginative and subtly energetic drum feature one imagines the river cascading over boulders in a “rapids” or “white water” section.

“Etude 3” adds bass and drums to the sound of the leader’s guitar. It’s a reflective piece with Ollendorff’s guitar lyricism augmented by the subtle colourations provided by the rhythm section, with Michel adding mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers.

The album concludes with “These Days”, a short but atmospheric solo guitar piece that sees Ollendorff briefly experimenting with live looping techniques to sculpt and layer his sound.

“A Song For You” represents an impressive début from Ollendorff. His writing is both intelligent and melodic and the interplay between the leader and the hugely talented rhythm team of Chaplin and Michel is exceptional throughout. As previously noted this is an extremely well balanced trio, and engineer Killpartrick, in conjunction with producer Ollendorff,  has captured their delicate strength to perfection.

If there’s a fault it’s that it’s all a little too measured and tasteful. The overall mood of the album is reflective and lyrical and one would have appreciated a few more rough edges and a greater degree of light and shade and emotional and dynamic variation. This may well be something that Ollendorff will investigate next time round, and one also suspects that the trio might be rather less reserved in live performance, particularly on pieces such as “XY” and “Aare”.

Nevertheless there is much to enjoy and “A Song For You” has been very well received overall. Hopefully it will help to establish Ollendorff as a substantial playing and composing presence on the international jazz scene.


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