Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

April 25, 2024


Rooted in the tradition these are well crafted compositions that are superbly played by the members of an exceptional quartet. It’s music capable of appealing to a broad jazz listenership.

Vasilis Xenopoulos & Paul Edis Quartet

“Feels Like Home”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0154)

Vasilis Xenopoulos – tenor & soprano saxes, flute, Paul Edis – piano, Adam King – double bass, Joel Barford – drums

“Feels Like Home” is the second album from saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos and pianist Paul Edis, two musicians from very different backgrounds who first met on the UK jazz scene some twenty years ago. The pair released the duo recording “A Narrow Escape” in 2016 and this long awaited follow up sees them expanding the line up to a quartet with the addition of bassist Adam King and rising star drummer Joel Barford. This time round there is a greater focus on original composition with Edis contributing five tunes and Xenopoulos two. The only outside item is an arrangement “Going Home” from Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”.

Xenopoulos was born in Athens and left Greece to study jazz at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA, graduating with honours. He then re-located to London and quickly established himself as a leading figure on the UK jazz scene. One of the best ‘straightahead’ saxophonists around Xenopoulos is a highly popular musician with British jazz audiences both as the leader of his own groups, among them the Xtet and the Dexter Gordon inspired Dexterity Quintet, and as a prolific sideman.

Xenopoulos has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions, often in the company of guitarist Nigel Price. Xenopoulos has been a regular guest with Price’s organ trio and the pair have also co-led XPQ, aka the Xenopoulos-Price Quartet. Others with whom Xenopoulos has worked include trumpeter Stuart Henderson, bassist Shez Raja, vocalist Katriona Taylor and oud player (and fellow ex-pat Greek) Stefanos Tsourelis.

Together with trumpeter Quentin Collins Xenopoulos is the co-leader of the quintet Five Way Split, a band that also includes pianist Rob Barron, bassist Matyas Hofecker and drummer Matt Home. Playing original material but firmly rooted in the hard bop tradition the group is an ongoing concern and released its debut album “All The Way” on the Ubuntu record label in 2023. This recording is reviewed elsewhere on this site, as are numerous other albums and live performances featuring the playing of Xenopoulos.

Originally from the North East of England Paul Edis is a pianist, keyboard player, composer, educator and bandleader. He graduated with first class honours from London College of Music in 2006 and completed a PhD in Composition at the University of York in 2012.

While still based in the North East he released two albums featuring a sextet that included the rhythm team of Mick Shoulder (bass) and Adam Sinclair (drums) plus three of the North East’s most celebrated horn players in the shapes of Graham Hardy (trumpet), Graeme Wilson (saxophones) and Chris Hibbard (trombone). The first of these, the well received “There Will Be Time” (2012) was strongly influenced by hard bop, and particularly the sound of the Blue Note record label. The follow up, “Mr. Hipster” (2014) spread its musical wings further and also attracted the attention of the national jazz press, helping to establish Edis as more than just a good ‘regional musician’. Both of these albums are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Edis has also recorded as a solo pianist releasing four albums of mainly original material, “Not Like Me” (2013), “Just Like Me” (2015) and “Ruminations for Piano” (also 2015) and, more recently, “The Still Point of the Turning World” (2021). “Not Like Me” and “Just Like Me” are both reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Edis’ other projects include a jazz piano trio with bassist Andy Champion and drummer Russ Morgan, this line up releasing the album “Snakes and Ladders” in 2020.

Edis has always been a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps. The ensemble Triptych sees him doubling on piano and clarinet in a trio that also features Paul Susans (double bass) and Rob Walker (drums, percussion). This line up has recorded three suites of music, all recorded at Blank Studios in Newcastle and all released during 2020.

The Ushaw Ensemble was a seven piece jazz / folk ensemble, the instrumentation including violin and Northumbrian pipes. The album release “Volume 1” featured Edis’ compositions “St. Cuthbert Suite” and the “Sound of Achill”.

Edis has also recorded two Christmas albums, “A Jazzy Christmas” and “On Christmas Day”, both featuring a hand picked ensemble of his favourite musicians, among them vocalist Jo Harrop, a musician with whom Edis has worked regularly.

Edis has been a regular collaborator in projects led by the husband and wife team of bassist Andy Champion and vocalist Zoe Gilby. He has appeared on a number of Gilby’s solo recordings and was a member of Champion’s jazz-prog outfit ACV, appearing on two of that group’s albums. More recently he was a part of Living In Shadows, Gilby and Champion’s jazz/rock/electronica project.
The “Living In Shadows” album is reviewed elsewhere on this site, as are numerous other album releases and live performances featuring Gilby and Champion.

Others with whom Edis has worked include saxophonists Alan Barnes,  Iain Ballamy,  Tim Garland, Julian Siegel,  and Tony Kofi, trumpeters Bruce Adams, Steve Waterman and Jon Faddis, guitarists Nigel Price and Jim Mullen and trombonist Mark Nightingale.

The album packaging for Feels Like Home” features the duo’s personalised version of the London tube map with locations that have significance for the musicians represented as ‘stations’. These include Athens and Boston plus various places in the North East and in London and the Home Counties.

The duo describe the music and the overall theme of the album thus;
“Rooted in the jazz tradition, this is music that’s eclectic, groove based and fundamentally melodic. Including elements of hard bop, Latin jazz, gospel and even folk, there are nods to Dexter Gordon, Stanley Turrentine, John Coltrane, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, McCoy Tyner and more besides. This is honest music full of emotions, inspired and unified around the central theme of ‘home’.” 

The original material is very much written in the jazz tradition, as Edis and Xenopoulos explain, and those other elements to which they allude are also very much present and correct.

But before we get to all of that the album kicks off with a jazz arrangement of the Dvorak piece “Going Home”, from the composer’s “New World Symphony”. Inspired by US gospel music Dvorak’s piece represents a good vehicle for jazz improvisation and the quartet more than do it justice. The strong melodic theme is stated by Xenopoulos’ tenor, his tone initially yearning and wistful. With King and Barford combining to provide a steady swing he subsequently stretches out further, soloing with power, fluency and authority. Edis takes over at the piano, again soloing fluently and bringing something of that gospel influence to bear. King’s bass solo exhibits great dexterity, whilst retaining that vital element of swing. Meanwhile the increasingly in demand Barford stakes his claim as one of the best young drummers around, whatever the jazz context.

The Edis original “The Coast”,  the title possibly a reference to US West Coast jazz, is more laid back, a mid tempo swinger featuring the warm tone of Xenopoulos’ tenor in its early stages. He later stretches out more forcibly as the piece gathers momentum, subsequently handing over to Edis for a discursive piano solo. As ever King and Barford keep things ticking over nicely and swingingly and the piece concludes with a series of lively sax and piano exchanges between the co-leaders.

Also from the pen of Edis the modal “Lockdown London” features Xenopoulos at his most Coltrane like as he switches to soprano sax. At times the music simmers with the anger and frustration that defined the lockdown period, finding expression in the incisive bite of Xenopoulos’ playing. Edis, King, and particularly Barford, provide the rolling thunder behind Xenopoulos’ solo, with Edis later unleashing his inner McCoy Tyner as King and Barford continue to stoke the fires. Coltrane’s music continues to exert a huge influence on 21st century musicians and the quartet’s updating of his legacy still sounds fresh, vital and relevant.

Edis offers a change of mood with the delicate gospel flavourings of “Coming Home To You”, a soulful ballad featuring the conversational sound of Xenopoulos’ tenor and a delightfully melodic, and highly dexterous, bass solo from the excellent Adam King. Edis’ piano solo combines lyricism with strong blues and gospel leanings as the music begins to gather momentum, with Xenopoulos eventually assuming the lead once more, before handing back to Edis for a quieter finish. Barford gravitates between brushes and sticks as the music requires.

Xenopoulos takes up the compositional reins for “Memories of Home”, a Latin flavoured piece that manages to sound both nostalgic and celebratory. The burnished sound of the composer’s tenor takes the lead before handing over to Edis for a flowingly lyrical piano solo. Xenopoulos then takes over once more to solo more expansively. King is also featured with another fluent bass solo that again demonstrates his gift for melody. Barford’s drumming is variously subtle and dynamic as the music demands.

It’s Barford who gets to introduce Xenopoulos’ second outing with the pen, the fiercely swinging “Get Off My Lawn”, an energetic, rumbustious piece that has been described as a “burner”. It offers the opportunity for its composer to blaze effectively on tenor sax, followed by a sparkling piano solo from Edis, underpinned by King’s rapid bass walk and Barford’s crisp drumming. The latter gets further opportunities to shine with a series of dynamic drum breaks. With its sudden ending this is a piece that is surely destined to become an audience favourite at the quartet’s live shows.

Edis resumes compositional duties for “From Something To Somewhere”, an abstract ballad that combines ‘spiritual jazz’ style tenor sax meditations with a more straight forward piano lyricism.  Edis delivers a beautifully flowing solo, this followed by another wonderfully melodic bass solo from King, with Barford providing subtle and sympathetic brushed drum support. Xenopoulos, gently brooding tenor then returns towards the close.

The album concludes the joyous “Mikey’s Samba”, that long awaited nod to Jobim promised in the album notes. This lively offering is ushered in by drums and bass and features Xenopoulos on flute, dancing lightly around the infectious Latin rhythms. His agile, playful solo is followed by a dazzling piano solo from Edis and there’s also a busy and colourful drum feature from the consistently excellent Barford. It’s a delightful way to sign off the album.

“Feels Like Home” exhibits many of the same virtues as the Five Way Split release, but with a greater emphasis on the original writing of the co-leaders. Once again the album features a series of intelligent originals broadly written in the hard bop tradition  , but also embracing other jazz and wider music genres. There’s nothing radical here but these are well crafted compositions that are superbly played by the members of an exceptional quartet. It’s music capable of appealing to a broad jazz listenership and one would imagine that the quartet’s live shows will prove to be exciting and highly enjoyable events. The standard of the playing is exceptional throughout, with engineer Andrew Tulloch also taking credit for making everybody sound good.

The album will be officially launched at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London on April 29th 2024.


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