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Chris Flaherty Big Band

Turning Point


by Ian Mann

September 07, 2012


An enjoyable, accessible and well crafted album that deserves to enhance Flaherty's reputation as a musician and composer.

Chris Flaherty Big Band

“Turning Point”

(Jazz Kat Records JKRCD002)

Chris Flaherty is a multi instrumentalist, composer and educator from Halifax, Yorkshire. Primarily a guitarist he runs the successful Halifax Guitar School from his studio in Greetland, Halifax and performs regularly all over the North of England with some of the region’s leading jazz musicians.

The “Big Band” moniker is something of a misnomer. The economics of running a large ensemble plus the wonders of modern recording technology have ensured that this album is be the work of just half a dozen musicians. Flaherty not only plays guitar but also performs the bass and drum parts. He is joined on the project by Rod Mason (reeds), Dennis Rollins (trombone) and Greg Nicholas (trumpet & flugelhorn) with the pianist’s role being shared between Al MacSween and Aron Kyne. The three horn men overdub their parts to produce a full line up that is effectively 2 Alto & 2 Tenor saxes, 2 Trumpets, 2 Trombones, Guitar, Bass, Drums & Piano ( plus flute on “Dance of the Sardines” and flugel solo on “Parallel Motion”.

The album commences with the convincingly authentic big band sounds of the cheekily titled “Trane Spotting”. As Flaherty has noted there are comparatively few opportunities for guitarists within the ranks of conventional big bands hence his decision to form his own! Flaherty the guitarist finds plenty of room to express himself here and elsewhere and his work on bass and drums is also functional and wholly adequate. Besides the leader the rousing opener also features strong solo statements from Nicholas and Mason.

“Mosaic” has a warmer,gentler feel with Flaherty’s elegant Pat Metheny like guitar lines backed by tasteful but sumptuous horns. His own bass and drums are perfectly attuned to his guitar, Flaherty also teaches bass at his music school and on this evidence is also a highly competent drummer.

The Metheny like tone remains for the following “Parallel Motion” which also introduces a touch of funk. With its punchy but lyrical horn charts the piece has a distinctly urban feel that frames solos from Flaherty on guitar and Nicholas on flugelhorn. The title track offers a similar blend of mellifluousness and groove with Flaherty sharing the solo honours with the always excellent Dennis Rollins.

“Let It Simmer” bubbles along pleasingly with clipped funk grooves and punchy horn charts. The larger than life figure of Rod “The Room Darkener” Mason impresses alongside Flaherty in the solo exchanges.

“Song For Dawn” offers lush horn arrangements alongside Flaherty’s warm, syrupy guitar lines and Rollins’ rounded, velvet toned trombone. The quirky but funky “Dance of The Sardines” features Mason on flute alongside the leader’s cool but agile guitar. Nicholas and Mason, the latter now back on saxophone vie for excellence on back to back horn solos. It’s infectious, enjoyable stuff.

Having paid tribute to John Coltrane on the opener Flaherty now turns his attention to Charlie Parker with the boppish “Trippin’ off Bird” which features his own slippery bebop guitar lines and the first piano solo of the album from Aron Kyne. Hitherto the instrument has been deployed for its rhythmic and harmonic capabilities. 

“Rise of The Fofanon” embodies similar boppish virtues with Flaherty, the punchy Mason, and MacSween at the piano the featured soloists. In his rhythmic capacity Flaherty maintains a propulsive groove behind the soloists and even enjoys the occasional drum break.

“McCloud 9” is unpretentiously funky with some rousing unison horn passages and typically elegant guitar soloing. Mason and Rollins add joyous but incisive solos on sax and trombone and there’s some great section playing too.

The album ends on an upbeat note with “New Perspective” which surges along on the back of solos from Flaherty, Mason and Rollins.

“Turning Point” isn’t a big band album in the conventional sense and it may not be to the liking of dyed in the wool big band aficionados. However there is much to enjoy about the record, Flaherty’s compositions are both melodic and grooving combining Pat Metheny’s melodic sense with the grooves of funk, fusion and nu jazz. With its numerous overdubs the album is clearly a labour of love, particularly so for Flaherty who occupies the roles of composer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, engineer and producer. Everybody plays well and in Mason and Rollins Flaherty has chosen players with national reputations.

The album has been well received and Flaherty hopes to put together a band, probably a seven piece featuring the core quintet plus bass and drums, to play the music live. Hope he succeeds. “Turning Point” may not pull up any trees but its an enjoyable, accessible and well crafted album that deserves to enhance Flaherty’s reputation as a musician and composer. If you live in the North of England he’s a musician that should be well worth checking out whatever context he might be appearing in. 

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