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Tim Whitehead

Too Young To Go Steady

by Ian Mann

February 02, 2008


Brimful of fiery inventive playing in an intimate live setting. A great team effort with everybody at the top of their game.

Tenor saxophonist Tim Whitehead first came to my attention as a member of seminal eighties big band Loose Tubes. He later led his own fusion groups but these days concentrates on more straight ahead jazz stylings. Not that there is anything backward looking about Whitehead’s approach. He is surrounded by a young and phenomenally talented young band and his own playing has developed over the years to the point that he is now pretty much the consummate saxophonist.

This joyous set was recorded live on 13th July 2007 at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho, an intimate venue that brings out the best in the band. The five lengthy pieces are brimming with musical intent and there is fiery, inventive playing from everyone involved.

Joining Whitehead are pianist Liam Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Milo Fell. All are long term associates of Whitehead with Fell and Hayhurst comprising the rhythm section on “Lucky Boys” the 2006 quartet release recorded with Italian pianist Giovanni Mirobassi and reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The new live recording kicks off with the title track, a twelve minute exploration that begins ruminatively with just tenor and piano before subsequently exploding into life. Whitehead’s mixing of the tender with the tough is a feature throughout the album and the opener slowly builds in intensity. Whitehead takes the first solo followed by Noble. The pianist has developed into one of the country’s finest players. His trademark percussive, almost Monkish approach has been augmented by a more mature lyricism and he is now at home in virtually any context. Hayhurst and Fell comprise a formidable rhythm section. They swing like crazy but there is a freshness and inventiveness about their playing that brings out the best in their colleagues. The regulation bass and drum solos are far above the average fare. As one would expect with a regular working band these four make one hell of a team.

Hayhurst’s intro to the first Whitehead original “Happy Birthday To Me” is bass playing at it’s best, both lyrical and dexterous and with brilliant support from his partner in crime behind the drums. Whitehead’s attractive mid tempo tune is the spring board for some more glorious soloing from Noble and from the leader himself.

Another Whitehead original “Colour Fast” commences at a breakneck tempo that reflects it’s title. There are pianistic pyrotechnics from Noble who seems to be all over the keyboard before the pace drops to allow Hayhurst some time in the spotlight. Whitehead emerges from these abstractions to solo over jagged rhythms. It’s tricky, dazzling but ultimately invigorating stuff.

Whitehead likes to put a jazz stamp on pop material as evidenced by his 1999 album “Personal Standards” and a take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” on “Lucky Boys”. Here he tackles “Love Fool” by Swedish group The Cardigans. Whitehead’s soul inflected tenor swoops and soars above Noble’s piano in the manner of Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging” band. It may sound like an incongruous mix but it works brilliantly.

Finally comes the surging “Race Against Time” another tune that lives up to it’s title. Noble is first out of the blocks with another dazzling solo followed by Whitehead’s scorching tenor over a driving rhythm section. Finally there is an astonishing drum feature from the dynamic Fell.

The Pizza Express audience loved it-and that was only the first set. Let’s hope they’ve got the second one in the can for subsequent release.

Many critics have commented that Noble stole the show and there is certainly something in that. But I prefer to think of “Too Young To Go Steady” as a magnificent team performance with everybody at the top of their game. Much of it is pretty “full on” and it shows a more extrovert side of Whitehead’s musical personality than “Lucky Boys” but both are fine records in their own right.

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