WITH their eponymous album (Babel Label, 2011), Aquarium presented a mature and distinctive debut on the UK’s vibrant contemporary jazz scene. ‘Places’, their much-anticipated follow-up on Jellymould Jazz, confirms that this quartet of creative, hard-working musicians, led by pianist and composer Sam Leak, is continuing to develop a very special and captivating sound.
Leak clearly puts heart and soul into his writing, as well as his playing; the emotion and conviction are there for all to hear across these eight originals – from the dark openings of Milan, through the almost anarchic Scribbles and Scrawls, to the feel-good of Daybreak.
James Allsopp gives an assured lead on tenor, offering rich tone and beautifully fluent melodies, as well as some wonderfully screeching episodes! When Allsopp introduces another angle – bass clarinet – it hints at English folksong (I’m thinking ‘Finzi, Vaughan Williams’) creating a mood sometimes mysterious, but always delightful. Calum Gourlay (bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums), now both familiar names on the circuit, must be a dream to work with – close-knit yet adventurous, and evidently ‘in tune’ with the many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns that are conjured by Leak and Allsopp. Some may describe this as ‘chamber’ jazz, but that perhaps belies the fact that this is inspired and stimulating original music of the highest calibre.
The opening title track, Places, initially suggests (as does Marrakech) an old standard favourite, with Allsopp providing its lyrical melody, but soon growing into something more complex and pacey. Milan builds with a troubled undercurrent, eventually transforming into a second section of delicate, piano-led positivity. Barging in abruptly with a terrific, free and lively swagger is Scribbles and Scrawls (reminiscent of the superb ‘Evensong’ on their debut album). February steals in, bringing with it the most luxurious bass clarinet soloing (Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lara’s Theme’ comes to mind at times!) against Blackmore’s impressive, feathery and persistent brushwork.
Clutter is infectious, Gourlay scampering all over it, before Catherine Grove agitatedly bursts through (Leak reveals an unpleasant back-story to this, when he was attacked at knife-point in this area of London). Nevertheless, it provides a piece characterised by a relentless momentum, with excellent piano improvisation from Leak, and the whole quartet providing an exciting urgency. This studio recording ends on an even keel with the bright and breezy Daybreak.
Concluding the album is a bonus track – a great live broadcast of Milan from London Jazz Festival, courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz Line-Up’, prompting us (as if needed) to catch this quartet on their UK tour which accompanies this album release.
A greatly recommended album from a highly creative pianist/composer, Places is available from Jellymould Jazz and all good jazz outlets.
Sam Leak piano
James Allsopp tenor sax, bass clarinet
Callum Gourlay double bass
Joshua Blackmore drums