THERE IS SOMETHING rather kick-off-your-shoes warm and inviting about this new quartet release from saxophonist and composer Rachael Cohen. With a beautifully rounded, gentle vibrato alto tone (think Getz, Desmond or, currently, Ben van Gelder) and the assured mellowness of Phil Robson’s guitar, the whole ten-track programme presents a particularly fine debut.
Alluding to the world of sport – “the idea of half-time in a sports game, of pausing for thought and considering your next move” – ‘Halftime’ is an album of impressive Cohen originals (plus Ornette Coleman’s Just For You). Bassist Calum Gourlay and James Bashford on drums complete the line-up – and the four hit it off perfectly, creating a particularly satisfying cohesion and balance. Originally hailing from the far-north-easterly Shetland Islands and already with an impressive jazz pedigree, Cohen exudes a freedom of spirit which inhabits both her writing and playing – quite a breath of fresh of air. A prime example is Rise and Fall of SC, a breezy descending-bass number in which Rachael’s melodious sax dances fancifully, eventually giving way to Robson who shares the same airiness. Preceding this, the seven-minute Groove Envy is more driven and freely felt, Robson offering a pleasingly crunchy dissonance as well as bright soloing, Gourlay and Bashford controlling well its catchy, triplet-heavy rhythm.
A sublime ‘halftime’ sax/guitar/bass miniature, Intermission, leads to the blithe and chirpy Riggins, Higgins?, drums, bass and chordal guitar supplying an appealing, repetitive ground for the nimble, confident alto and guitar soloing. In Window Watcher, Cohen’s inquiring sax is pitched against the mystery of Robson’s close chord clusters and Gourlay’s tiptoeing bass before a fast-paced central section snaps into action, guitar and bass delectably scampering and falling over each other. Album opener, The Manor, is beautifully buoyant, Bashford’s precise snare and cymbals maintaining lightness throughout and the alto melodies so affable; and Cohen’s interpretation of Just For You offers a touch more momentum than Coleman’s original, but still ‘lays back’ to Gourlay’s cool, walking bass and Robson’s ornamentation.
In the amiable, tuneful Ask Me Later, Rachael’s alto lead is so velvety – and the piece’s winsome rhythmic and chromatic motifs, along with Gourlay’s lucid bass soloing, give the impression of a standard that’s been around for years. Free Speech reveals a harder-edged improvisational aspect of the quartet’s playing – and, though brief, it perhaps suggests a development for ‘album no.2’ with obvious communication between the players, yet an exciting taste of spontaneity (Bashford’s ringing cymbal a great touch). Softly-brushed Full Time certainly brings a hankering for extra time – a gorgeous final number underpinned by Phil Robson’s genial guitar accompaniment.
Apparently, Rachael Cohen is Whirlwind’s first female leader ‘signing’ – expect to see plenty more classy ‘first team’ performances in the future!
Released on 18 November 2013, details, video and audio samples can be found here.
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4644 (2013)