by Ian Mann
September 15, 2017
This time round there’s a greater emphasis on Butterworth as a composer and on the whole he succeeds brilliantly. Nevertheless there’s still room for the individual musicians to express themselves.
Will Butterworth Quartet
“The Nightingale and the Rose”
(Jellymould Jazz JJ027)
I first became aware of the playing of pianist and composer Will Butterworth back in 2008 when he performed a series of concerts in the Welsh Marches in the towns of Presteigne and Hay on Wye, events organised by the then local poet and promoter Tony Walton, who had some kind of family connection to Butterworth.
These concerts were a great success, with excellent attendances, and revealed Butterworth to be an adventurous pianist with a hugely impressive technique, initially self taught but later classically honed. Never a musician to rest on his laurels Butterworth ensured that every performance was different, appearing in various formats – duo, trio, quartet – with a varying cast of musicians including saxophonists Jake McMurchie and Tom Harvey, bassists Matt Ridley, Marcus Penrose and Adam King and drummers Dylan Howe, Jon Scott and Pete Ibbetson.
Since 2010 the Edinburgh born, London based Butterworth hasn’t made so many visits to the Welsh Borders but he has become an increasingly significant figure on the UK jazz scene as a whole. Initially Butterworth seemed to be under recorded but this situation has been partially remedied in recent years.
Butterworth’s début was an eponymous solo piano album released in 2008 on the Music Chamber and this was followed in 2010 by a bold re-imagining of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” in a duo setting with drummer Dylan Howe (working under the name Stravinsky Duo).
Butterworth’s first recording in the orthodox piano trio format came in 2011 with the release of the album “Hereafter”, featuring Ibbetson on drums and with bass duties shared between King and Penrose. “Live”, a recording of a 2012 trio session at London’s Pizza Express Club featuring Ibbetson and bassist Henrik Jensen finally saw the light of day in 2015.
Butterworth was also part of the co-operative trio Tournesol, featuring Penrose and saxophonist Seb Pipe, which released an eponymous album on the Kelsey record label in 2012.
Since 2013 Butterworth’s regular working group has been a quartet featuring Pipe on alto sax, Ibbetson at the drums and Nick Pini on double bass. It’s this line up that has recorded this latest album, a suite of ten original compositions by Butterworth inspired by and based on Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Nightingale and the Rose”.
The work began life as a solo piano composition before being developed into its current form, both in the studio and on the road. It’s been part of the quartet’s repertoire since 2013 and this version was recorded by engineer Nick Taylor at Porcupine Studios in July 2014. Still, I guess a delay of three years between recording and release isn’t that uncommon in the world of jazz, and that of Will Butterworth in particular.
The album commences with the delicate sound of solo piano, later joined by deliciously rich and rounded arco bass, on the scene setting “No red rose in all my garden”. Ibbetson later adds a delicate cymbal touch and Pipe almost subliminal alto sax on this gently lyrical intro.
The music segues almost seamlessly into the second movement, “The Nightingale”, a more lively affair featuring Pipe’s airy alto sax melodies, sounding a little like Paul Desmond. Butterworth’s piano arpeggios form the backdrop for Pipe’s sax lines but the pianist later stretches out to solo, his playing becoming more spiky and percussive, and eliciting a suitably animated response from the busy Ibbetson. Meanwhile Pipe’s alto continues to weave its way in and out of the piece, also becoming increasingly garrulous.
“What I sing of, he suffers” begins as a passage of unaccompanied saxophone, with Pipe’s alto presumably representing the voice of the Nightingale. His playing takes on a sharper edge as he’s joined in a fractious dialogue by Butterworth’s insistent, staccato piano motifs.
“She swept over the garden like a shadow….” then picks up the baton with a nervous, edgy, flighty energy that involves the whole band with bass and drums offering commentary on the spirited exchanges between bass and piano.
“Philosophy and metaphysics, part 1” is represented by a suitably ruminative passage of solo piano, a reminder of Butterworth’s classical past.
“Part 2” is a much more quirky and energetic affair featuring the entire quartet. With its jumpy, staccato rhythms it’s sometimes reminiscent of the music of Thelonious Monk, unconventional but still swinging. The complex contours of the piece provide room for both Pipe and Butterworth to stretch out while Pini and Ibbetson handle the rhythmic challenges with considerable aplomb.
“A red rose in my garden” reprises the opener through its use of arco bass and arpeggiated piano. Pini and Butterworth have also worked in the trio A-priori with the saxophonist Jac Jones.
Butterworth’s piano also underpins “And like a shadow she sailed through the grove….”, which features a melodic and highly dexterous pizzicato bass solo from the excellent Pini and some neatly energetic, finely detailed drum work from Ibbetson. Butterworth also allows himself to stretch out on one of the album’s most vibrant pieces and Pipe delivers some of his most impassioned playing of the set towards the close.
It’s Pipe’s unaccompanied alto that performs “The cold crystal moon leaned down to listen”, his horn again representing the voice of the selfless Nightingale in this musical interpretation of Wilde’s tale of love and sacrifice.
This segues into the closing “A love perfected by death”, a melancholic but beautifully lyrical piece paced by Butterworth’s piano and featuring the pure sound of Pipe’s alto as Pini and Ibbetson offer characteristically sympathetic support. As the piece gathers momentum it acquires more of a celebratory, or valedictory, feel as Pipe’s alto begins to soar, before eventually falling away to allow for a gently lyrical pianistic coda.
Butterworth’s early gigs in the Welsh Marches and many of his recordings to date have largely featured his adventurous interpretations of other peoples’ music, from jazz standards to Stravinsky. This time round there’s a greater emphasis on Butterworth as a composer and on the whole he succeeds brilliantly.
By choosing to base his writing around the theme of Wilde’s story he’s been able to give himself a framework around which to structure his compositions, thus providing the music with discipline and focus. Nevertheless there’s still room for the individual musicians to express themselves and the standard of the playing, from a team that Butterworth trusts implicitly, is excellent throughout.
Butterworth has written some memorable themes and it’s not necessary to have read Wilde’s story to appreciate the album. Nevertheless most of the dates on the forthcoming tour will feature the quartet accompanied by a guest narrator who will be reading extracts from Wilde’s text.
I’m pleased that Butterworth decided against doing this on the album. Spoken word narratives accompanying music can enhance a live experience but, for me, don’t really work on record. I think it’s an aversion that I developed in my youth as the result of listening to too many pretentious prog rock clinkers such as Rick Wakeman’s “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” (narrated by David Hemmings) and Procol Harum’s “Something Magic (it wasn’t)..
“The Nightingale and The Rose” tour dates are listed below. Pete Ibbetson will be unavailable due to other commitments and will be replaced at the drums by Marco Quarantotto.
Weds 20 September
Sheffield, Jazz at the Lescar, Sharrowvale Road S11 8ZF
READING: Ian McMillan
Fri 22 September
Brighton, Jazz at the Verdict 159 Edward Street BN2 0JB
READING: Tony Gill, aka Gilli Bloodaxe
Sat 23 September
Ambleside, Zeffirellis, Compston Road LA22 9DJ,
Sun 24 September
Ashburton St Lawrence Chapel, St Lawrence Ln, TQ13 7DD
Mon 25 September
Appledore Book Festival, presented by North Devon Jazz Club, The Beaver Inn, Irsha Street EX39 1RY http://www.beaverinn.co.uk/ free
READING: Peter Hames
Tues 26 September
St Ives Jazz Club,The Western Hotel, Gabriel Street TR26 2LU,
Weds 27 September
Cardiff, Dempseys @ The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place
Thurs 28 September
Poole, Sound Cellar, The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close BH15 1NE
READING: Tony Horitz
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Sun 12 November
London Jazz Festival, Zedels 20 Sherwood Street W1F 7ED
READING: Gyles Brandreth