THE CURIOUS ASSORTMENT of characters above conceals a delicious preponderance of reeds in Michael Chillingworth’s debut septet album, Scratch and Sift.
Saxophonist and clarinettist Chillingworth is a mainstay of London’s contemporary jazz scene, working with artists such as Stan Sulzmann, Julian Siegel, James Maddren and Kit Downes. So it’s fascinating to discover the free thinking of his own writing, realised with colleagues Tom Challenger (tenor, clarinet), Josh Arcoleo (tenor), George Crowley (bass clarinet), Lewis Wright (vibes), Sam Lasserson (bass) and Jon Scott (drums).
Here is an album which rasps and sizzles so hard and so densely that it’s hard to ignore. Contrastingly sweet and sour, many of these eight, original compositions somehow seem to convey the arresting wit, irony and dark mischievousness to be found in classic, monochrome Ealing comedies. Right from the off, stealthy vibraphone and spicy horn ta-dahhs in Butterman lure the senses into an unusual world of theatrics and drollery, its agile melodies and close, spiky arrangements shadily tiptoeing around each corner; and Mint‘s syncopated blarings are matched by Jon Scott’s perky percussion, with some delightful individual improvisations widening into more open landscapes.
Yes, there’s a certain, honest Britishness to Chillingworth’s musical imagination. Overlaid tumblings in Brian Kuh give way to rapid, exuberant sax anarchy as the leader’s swirling alto is taunted by his assailants amidst challenging, irregular riffs (unpredictable, scampering unison passages here, which break into harmony, are especially effective… nay, smile-inducing). The furtive bass clarinet, double bass and vibes of clock-ticking The Wait (not to be listened to, alone, on a dimly-lit railway platform!) eventually screech to jittery alto and a cacophony of wailing sirens; so it’s quite likely that lumbering, irascible Capture is the resultant, bumpy, Black Maria journey!
Politely funky Grateful Lady is a joy, Lewis Wright’s repeated vibraphone chromatics providing the notorious ‘sax and clarinet boys’ with an opportunity to knock seven bells out of each other – so much vim and vigour, encouraged by Lasserson and Scott in the propulsive rhythm section, and concluding with wonderfully wheezy, out-of-breath textures in the reeds department. Through the opening flick of one eye, Numbers‘ initial quietude becomes utterly mischievous, its inquisitive alto extensions and trills breaking into communal boogie; and closing Righteous fools no-one – a chuffing, squawking hullabaloo which, though microscopically arranged, is as tireless and wild as the album’s earlier, madcap adventures – and Chillingworth’s hard-blown improv just as audacious.
Awright, mate [nudge, wink]… go get it!
Released on Two Rivers Records on 1 July 2016, Scratch and Sift is available from Bandcamp.
Michael Chillingworth alto saxophone, clarinet
Tom Challenger tenor saxophone, clarinet
Josh Arcoleo tenor saxophone
George Crowley bass clarinet
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Sam Lasserson bass
Jon Scott drums
Two Rivers Records – TRR 010 (2016)