‘The Crux’ – Tommy Andrews Quintet

TheCrux

DEBUT JAZZ RELEASES never cease to engender a particular brand of eager anticipation – new names, fresh experiences and a portal on this thriving and constantly evolving genre. Firmly adding to that same excitement is the name of emerging reedsman Tommy Andrews and this fine new quintet album, The Crux.

Aside from his already considerable musical accomplishments, Andrews is a keen rock climber and reflects something of that activity’s challenge and patient attainment in an invigorating, eclectic approach to writing and performance, his extended through-composed works also providing the freedoms of open, developing improvisation. Joining him on the ascent are energetic pianist Rick Simpson, acclaimed bassist Dave Manington (Loop Collective, e17) and popular mainstay drummer Dave Hamblett, as well as guitarist Nick Costley-White who contributes impressive prog rock urgency and delicacy to this collection of seven originals by the saxophonist.

From the ominous preludial lyricism of Sirens into the upbeat sureness of The Crux, this quintet quickly outlines its intent of considered and collaborative creativity. Indeed, Andrews is a strong altoist who clearly ignites confidence in his equally ambitious ensemble, the effect frequently cinematic in its boldness. The brief, dreamy shimmerings of Crystal Car, with finely-spun guitar chords, afford Andrews the space to hit the heights of his range to the water-droplet piano of Rick Simpson, leading to the eight-minute Mr. Skinny Legs – and the jocose title here perhaps belies both the beauty and drive of this compelling, intensifying piece (references to elevation never far off). Team spirit shines through the precise arrangement, as do the shared melodies and solo work of Costley-White and Andrews against a pleasingly undulating bassline from Manington.

L.H.B. displays a real sense of originality, Simpson’s mysteriously inquiring chromaticism against clarinet and guitar suggesting dark crevasses, though still hanging on to positivity, and Costley-White’s rising, echoic guitar wash fascinatingly reminiscent of early Genesis (Steve Hackett, ‘Watcher of the Skies’, etc.). Hamblett and Simpson emphasise the four-square rock drive before pacing-up the tempo into dazzling sunlight, Andrews glorious in his soaring extemporisations and concluding on an abrupt high – summit reached, and beautifully portrayed. Subtitled Sirens Pt II, Toscana floats and glimmers to a steady Philip Glass-like pulse of arpeggioed piano, guitar and clarinet, eventually thinning and dissolving into the cirrus atmosphere – quite magical. And to close, quite possibly the pinnacle of the assembled tracks – Steep. Hamblett and Manington provide its complex, propulsive energy, sparking the best from Andrews, Costley-White and Simpson. The vibe is infectious… spirited piano and unison guitar and sax lines making way for the leader’s aqueous soloing which cries out for extended, dramatic development in a live setting.

Released on 30 June 2014 by Jellymould Jazz, The Crux is a skilled and mature offering from the Tommy Andrews Quintet – subtly rock-infused contemporary jazz, with the promise of still greater heights to be scaled. Further information, promo video and audio clips available here.

 

Tommy Andrews alto sax and clarinet
Nick Costley-White guitars
Rick Simpson piano
Dave Manington double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

tommyandrews.co.uk

Jellymould Jazz – JJ015 (2014)

‘Beyond These Voices’ – Nick Malcolm Quartet

NickMalcolm

BRIMMING with intelligent and zesty exploration, this second release from the Nick Malcolm Quartet (plus guest Corey Mwamba) charts a truly absorbing path ‘twixt the written and the free, between rhythmic intensity and spacial tranquillity, sparking and igniting the deep creativity of the varied individual characters within a remarkable jazz blend. 

Trumpeter and composer Nick Malcolm clearly has an eclectic musical persona, as well as a multi-faceted style, often found belting out riffs (along with drummer Mark Whitlam, also of this quartet) between the dusky, enigmatic vocals of Emily Wright’s song-based Moonlight Saving Time. Put into this particular mix experimental jazz pianist Alexander Hawkins (whose solo and ensemble album releases created ripples of excitement earlier this year) plus the inspired, improvisatory bass playing of Olie Brice… and the result is a sophisticated quartet/quintet team capable of a satisfyingly original collaborative output. Beyond These Voices follows the band’s 2012 début, Glimmers, and explores, intentionally and quite beautifully, an equal appreciation of sound and silence (which Malcolm describes as “the essential paradox of music”).

Take, for example, Grimes, an eight-minute improvisation which opens with brash and brassy intent, Malcolm bouncing off Whitlam’s wide-open drums before the steadying undercurrent of Hawkins’ lush, deep chords and Brice’s bass enter, only to develop more strongly. The contrast between the two forms is marked, yet the whole combined concept is realised perfectly. And then the ‘silence’ – the most limpid and emotionally-charged high piano extemporisation, with space taking equal importance, plus an affirming, sustained bass. There’s Lead In Their Pencils is great fun – a kind of dissonant Ellington boogie in which Malcolm blasts and neighs his way through the pulsating, rhythmic chaos, Corey Mwamba’s sparky, hard vibes adding vivid colour.

Views takes a gentler back seat, although this is no straight-laced ballad. Malcolm’s tone is lazily mellow, peppered with the occasional flutter, and the precise vibraphone playing of Mwamba is a joy. The shuffling momentum of A Very Blusterous Day, upheld magnificently by Whitlam and Brice, offers a broad canvas for the written and improvised thoughts of Malcolm and Hawkins, with Mwamba offering again his distinctive approach to vibes, eddying and gyrating (like a supercharged Pierre Moerlen) to the shimmerings of Hawkins’ piano – and an orchestral, Brittenesque trumpet flourish to close. It’s Alright, We’re Going to the Zoo is a cheeky, smouldering, fizzing affair, Malcolm improvising freely and brightly against Brice’s bass bounce; Sidereal (the album opener) develops and opens out to display more of that spontaneous quartet interaction, whilst the the two free improvisations that punctuate the programme further reveal their insightful and creative abilities.

To close, something quite affecting… Where, Beyond These Voices, There is Peace. Prompted by Alexander Hawkins’ quiet then increasingly anguished piano chords, the trumpet of Nick Malcolm chatters and squawks to the bowed scratchings of Brice and tempered percussion of Whitlam. And, for a final magical minute, Hawkins almost completely suspends animation with characteristic piano weightlessness.

If you’re searching for new experiences, and the fascination of free-yet-accessible improvisation, Beyond These Voices demonstrates the heights that British jazz is currently achieving – and this is certainly a ‘grower’ of an album. Most impressive.

 

Nick Malcolm trumpet
Alexander Hawkins piano
Olie Brice double bass
Mark Whitlam drums

Guest
Corey Mwamba vibraphone

nickmalcolm.co.uk

Green Eyes Records – GE15 (2104)