by Ian Mann
April 04, 2012
Gentle but supremely eloquent musical conversations with an underlying sense of freedom and adventure that positions the music somewhere beyond mere prettiness.
(Kelsey Records CMKD 1102)
Tournesol is a new, drummer-less trio featuring pianist Will Butterworth, a regular presence on the Jazzmann web-pages, his long term collaborator double bassist Marcus Penrose and alto saxophonist Seb Pipe, the latter taking time out from his own Life Experience quartet. For the trio’s début on Kelsey Records all three musicians bring compositions to the table with each writer seemingly accorded a section of the album. “Tournesol” begins with three back to back pieces from Penrose, followed by two from Pipe and finally two from Butterworth. It’s not clear whether this was intentional or whether chance was an element in the selection of the running order. In any event all seven pieces are characterised by an underlying lyricism and all are used as “jumping off” points for improvisation with Penrose’s bass very much an equal partner in the gentle but supremely eloquent musical conversations that result.
“Tournesol” means “Sunflower” and the group include a quote from the William Blake poem “The Sunflower” on the album’s elegant packaging. This elegance is also evident in the recording. Take a blindfold test and you would swear that you were listening to an ECM recording, such is the quality of the sound obtained by engineers John Davison and Matthieu Zisswiller. There’s a sense of clarity and space between the instruments with every note being made to count.
The album commences with the Penrose composition “Tom’s House”, the band’s favourite according to Butterworth. It’s notable for the interplay between Butterworth and Penrose on the extended, highly lyrical introduction. Pipe enters almost unobtrusively, his playing pure toned and tightly controlled. Butterworth is a virtuoso pianist but here he is more concerned with mood building than technique yet for all this there are plenty of interesting musical ideas going on with the trio deploying some of the contrapuntal elements of classical music. Pipe subsequently adopts a more incisive, keening tone as the piece develops, for all its quiet beauty this music is far from being bland.
Solo bass introduces “December 7th” and underpins Butterworth’s vaguely Monkish solo. Pipe adopts a more conventional jazz tone for his solo statement on this invigorating, more obviously jazz piece.
The beautiful “Lament For Titus” represents the group at their most lyrical with Penrose’s deeply resonant solo complemented by the soft cry of Pipe’s alto as Butterworth’s piano provides the harmonic heart of the piece. Later the roles of bass and piano are reversed for Butterworth’s thoughtful solo. And yet solos are not really what Tournesol is about. This is a highly democratic ensemble where group interaction is paramount. As Butterworth explains “we take the approach that nothing in particular has to happen and this means there’s a great sense of adventure whenever we start a tune. I guess the lack of drums allows this approach to work easily”. It is the group’s intention that a tune should tell a different story each time it is performed and that sense of openness is apparent throughout this recording. It should also ensure that the live dates by the trio, scheduled later in the year, will be full of interest.
Pipe’s title track, the nomenclature perhaps an oblique reference to his Anglo French ancestry, initially features the composer’s alto sax to the fore, subtly shadowed by Butterworth and Penrose. Roles are later reversed as Penrose (briefly) and Butterworth take over the lead but the lyricism and openness that characterises the trio’s music is omnipresent throughout. His second contribution, the brief “Back On Track” combines subtly bop tinged alto with Butterworth’s piano lyricism on a delicate folk inspired melody.
Butterworth’s “In Your Place” represents the pianist at his most lyrical and melodic with Pipe’s alto stating the theme with the utmost delicacy prior to an extended passage of mellifluous piano underscored by the warm purr of Penrose’s bass. When Pipe returns his playing still has the same air of bruised fragility, helping to make this one of the most affecting tunes on a very beautiful album.
Several of these tunes have seen the light of day before (among them “Tom’s House” and “Lament for Titus”) in more orthodox piano trio settings featuring Butterworth and Penrose. Also amongst these is the pianist’s “Bill’s Will”, a dedication not to Bill Evans as I’d first thought or even to William Shakespeare, but to American saxophonist Bill McHenry. Appearing here in a very different form to its previous incarnations the piece combines elements of structural freedom with a brooding lyricism to inspire genuine dialogue between Pipe and Butterworth.
Having seen Butterworth perform live on several different occasions I’m aware that he’s capable of pianistic fireworks but this album, like 2011’s piano/bass/drums outing “Hereafter” reveals him taking a more impressionistic route in the studio. “Tournesol”, the album is about painting in sound with each member of the trio seemingly on the same wavelength. The performances on the album have a unified quality that combines control and discipline to create frequently beautiful music yet there’s an underlying sense of freedom and adventure that positions the music somewhere beyond mere prettiness.
Will Butterworth has informed us of a number of forthcoming tour dates featuring Tournesol and also his regular piano trio with bassist Henrik Jensen and drummer Pete Ibbetson. Dates are as listed below;
16th April Oliver’s Jazz Bar 9 Nevada Street, Greenwich, London SE10 9JN Trio with Henrik Jensen (Bass) and Pete Ibbetson (Drums)
27th April Torfaen Jazz Club Panteg House, Griffithstown, Pontypool, NP4 5BE Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
29th April Stratford Jazz The Chapel, No.1 Shakespeare Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6RN Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
1st May Matt and Phreds 64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1LW With Tournesol..Seb Pipe (Alto) and Marcus Penrose (Bass)
2nd May Matt and Phreds 64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1LW Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
3rd May Bonington Theatre High Street, Arnold NG5 7EE Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
4th May Wakefield Jazz Wakefield (College Grove) Sports Club Eastmoor Road WF1 3RR With Tournesol..Seb Pipe and Marcus Penrose
11th May Fleece Jazz stoke by Nayland Hotel, CO6 4PZ Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
28th May Pizza Express Dean Street Soho W1D Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
13th July Torfaen Jazz Club Panteg House, Griffithstown, Pontypool, NP4 5BE With Tournesol..Seb Pipe and Marcus Penrose
25th July Brutally Honest The RAFA Club Building No. 4, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent ME4 4SL Trio with Henrik Jensen and Pete Ibbetson
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