THIS latest offering from jazz pianist and composer Dave Stapleton was always going to be interesting – piano, tenor sax, bass, drums and… string quartet? How was that going to work? Well, let’s start at… the end!
After listening through ‘Flight’, there is a real sense of having been taken on a expansive journey which draws the listener into its various moods, influences and emotions. This is ‘widescreen’ music, cinematic in its breadth, commanding attention throughout its seventy-plus minutes as it becomes more compelling, more satisfying.
My introduction to Dave Stapleton’s music was via his Quintet, with frontmen Jonny Bruce and Ben Waghorn rasping out blistering, fiery hooks on trumpet and saxes. Along with a number of studio albums to their name (Paula Gardiner on bass, Elliott Bennett on drums), the excitement of their live performances really is worth catching.
Norwegian sax wizard Marius Neset wowed us with his Edition debut album, ‘Golden Xplosion’, gaining critical acclaim for his collaboration with the hard-working Jasper Høiby (double bass), Anton Eger (drums) and Django Bates/Nick Ramm (keys). Here he displays all of that virtuosic sparkle, but also shows a more lyrical and spacious side to his tenor playing, which is likely to attract Garbarek comparisons (no bad thing, considering the success of ECM’s elder statesman) – yet he does have his own distinctive sound, whether floating on a cloud or mesmerising us with impossibly tireless, exuberant displays of power.
But this is a different venture…
Delving into a few of the substantial tracks: ‘Polaroid’ gently eases in before sax and drums energetically duel it out (reminiscent of ’70s Yorkshire jazz/blues band Back Door, or even Swiss-Austrian powerhouse Depart), followed by characteristic Stapleton parallel piano riffs (it couldn’t be anyone else!) muscling in on the action – glorious jazz quartet stuff! Our musical appreciations are always coloured by our own experiences – so ‘Henryk Part I’ takes me back to Soft Machine days, whilst Part II has a distinct Satie-like opening, broadening out into a beautiful, prolonged yearning from Neset and the Brodowski String Quartet.
‘OTS’ was the first of early samples to grab my attention. Subtle ‘ramblings’ from Dave Kane (double bass) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) underpin searching chords from Stapleton with atmospheric, languishing washes from Neset and the strings, giving way to a lively conversation before it all slows down (five minutes in) for some great sax and electric piano work. ‘Whisper’ is darker, whilst ‘Running East’, opening with scampering strings, radiates strong Nordic overtones – both building into a state of grandeur.
Finally, ‘North Wind’ blows in to increasingly dramatic effect – a thirteen and a half minute ‘tone poem’ which, having been announced by the impressive Brodowskis (who really go at it on 6:50!), cranks up into as thrilling a jazz frenzy as you’ll ever hear.
A fascinating and masterly outing from Dave Stapleton (both as player and writer) and his accomplished line-up, providing us with a rich and varied soundscape to luxuriate in. Highly recommended.
Edition Records – EDN1032 (2012)
(review first published at posterous.com, 24.04.12)