‘First Light’ – Andrew McCormack

FirstLight

‘MODERN CLASSIC’ is the recurring impression, each time I listen to this latest piano trio release, First Light, from Englishman in New York, Andrew McCormack.

The trajectory of McCormack’s jazz career has been fascinating to monitor since his 2007 debut album, Telescope, through to the more recent digital-only Live in London of 2012. In between, his musical partnership with saxophonist Jason Yarde (in two impressive duo recordings, as well as captivating live performances), revealed much about his personality and musical drive – and a relocation across the Atlantic to immerse himself in the American jazz scene has now, excitingly, increased his compositional/improvisational creativity and technical accomplishment to the heights that are to be discovered here.

Along with NYC rhythm section Zack Lober (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums), the pianist delivers a precise set of eight contrasting originals, plus a closing interpretation of Thelonious Monk – and, pleasingly, the overarching feel is one of an intelligent and inventive trio at ease with their connective artistry, which makes for the most heartwarming chamber jazz experience.

Bustling Prospect Park launches the album, perhaps suggesting the freedoms of Brooklyn’s urban oasis, McCormack’s morning-light piano seemingly dancing and cascading in the sun. The brisk, jaunty bass and drum tempo is particularly finely weighted, neither of the three players overshadowing the other, which enhances the sense of openness – and it’s a joy to experience McCormack’s exquisite keyboard touch throughout. Gotham Soul probes and twists to McCormack’s misterioso opening left-hand motif, gradually building in intensity but then pulling back to reveal a delicate double bass extemporisation against the combined subtlety of piano and drums – the communication lines here are most definitely clear, as the pianist closes with contrapuntal finesse. There’s a certain Monkish impudence and unpredictability to Leap of Faith, the trio’s jabbing punches transforming into McCormack’s effortless, melodic rolling across the keys to Lober’s steady, city-walking bass and Stranahan’s drumming intricacy.

Title track First Light summons the cerebral sound world of Bill Evans, such is the measured lucidity of all three musicians – but, specifically, it’s the incredible detailing of Andrew McCormack, from held-back droplet melodies, through rapid high runs and chordal saturation, and then back to final, sustained simplicity which vividly paints that very first, quiet glimpse of daybreak. Lober’s opening chromatic bass edginess in Reluctant Gift contrasts well, eventually breaking into more confident ground until the whole trio flies at impressive speed, inviting a hard-hitting show from Colin Stranahan until its unexpected… STOP! Reflecting the cityscape impressions of the cover art, Vista quietly patters through shifting major/minors, building and fading as if to emulate the changing patterns of a day in the US capital, pitching tranquillity against the heavy hydraulic hiss of sprawling traffic.

The River is more improvisatory in feel, ebbing and flowing to individual creative thoughts and a great combined bass and piano bass pulse, yet always cohesive. Its tense, jarring motifs are quite different to the earlier, reflective numbers; and elaborated live possibilities – hinted at by Stranahan’s colourful percussion – can easily be imagined. A brief interlude, Faith Remembered, recalls themes from the earlier Leap of Faith, expertly reinterpreting them into a pensive, perhaps melancholy, late-night piano solo. And then, to close, Thelonious Monk’s Pannonica, McCormack and his trio exchanging the writer’s trademark piano ‘clumsiness’ for a suitably bright’n’breezy evening walk in the park – full circle: first light to twilight.

Released on 7 July 2014 by increasingly successful British label Edition Records – superbly recorded/produced and packaged – First Light is available in digital and CD formats from their Bandcamp store. Certainly the mark of a consummate pianist/composer with a maturing, distinctive voice… and an album to treasure.

 

Andrew McCormack piano
Zack Lober double bass
Colin Stranahan drums

Edition Records – EDN1052 (2014)

‘Tate Song’ – Jean Toussaint (JT4)

JeanTousaintTateSong

IN A GLITTERING CAREER that has seen him working alongside such jazz icons as Art Blakey, Terence Blanchard, McCoy Tyner and Gil Evans (to name but a few), former Jazz Messenger and Grammy Award-winning, US-born saxophonist Jean Toussaint now releases his tenth album, ‘Tate Song’, on LYTE Records.

And what an effervescent blast of accomplished quartet creativity this is! Known as ‘JT4’ for this studio recording and accompanying tour, the personnel comprises Toussaint (now based in London) on tenor and soprano, high-flying British pianist Andrew McCormack (who currently resides in New York) plus bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller, both much in demand on the London scene.

Toussaint’s own Mood Mode is an exceptional and lively post-bop opener, the perfect introduction to the magnificent richness of the leader’s tenor – so commanding, both in solidity and fluidity, and an absolute joy to hear. Bartley and Miller lock the tempo with precision, yet fill the air with so much interest and intracacy; and McCormack displays his natural and now quite distinctive flair for chordal and bassline imagination as well as a crisp solo high line. Mulgrew (presumably in dedication to late jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller) freely but respectfully portrays both the lyricism and exuberance of Toussaint’s fellow Messenger who passed away in 2013. And a third original composition, My Dear Ruby, strolls nonchantly from an ascending four-note tenor hook (maybe an inferred reversal, as suggested by the rearranged title, of Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’) – again, the detail offered by each instrumentalist here is worthy of close attention (McCormack, perhaps as ‘Thelonious’, just wonderful).

Rice (for C R Peppers) is an extended and ebullient swinger of a tune, teed up by the rapid unison bassline phrasing of Bartley and McCormack. Toussaint is unstoppable on tenor, as is McCormack at the piano, throwing in improvisatory idea after idea, and Blakey would no doubt have been impressed with Troy Miller’s aptitude for rock-steady rhythmic ingenuity. Title track Tate Song is a luscious ballad, Toussaint’s genial melodies so sensitively colour-washed by piano, bass and drums; and McCormack’s Tunnel Vision has all the accessible upbeat qualities of a Sixties standard, affording the pianist and his colleagues the space to showcase their spectacular skills.

The amiable, easy-going demeanour of the Strachey/Maschwitz favourite These Foolish Things is expertly balanced, as is Nascimento’s Vera Cruz, Toussaint warmly interpreting its South American flavour. Miller is particularly percussive here, creating a great vibe, and the gently-rhythmic yet sparklingly-chromatic piano is a highlight, buoyed by sturdy bass. To close, Andrew McCormack’s eight-minute, piano-based Vista finds Toussaint on soprano (reminiscent of the writer’s duo collaborations with Jason Yarde) – a brooding, slowly-building episode (not unlike Ravel’s ‘Bolero’!) in which the leader reveals an alternative aspect to his playing, improvising up through the key changes and increasing dynamic.

‘Tate Song’ is the latest in the fast-growing catalogue of jazz and other genres at LYTE Records – and, as always, crystal clear in its engineering and mixing. From a release date of 24 February 2014, the quartet will then tour fourteen UK dates, including Ronnie Scott’s, London (see below) – catch them, and the album, at a venue near you (also available from lyterecords.com, iTunes, etc.).


Jean Toussaint
tenor and soprano saxophones
Andrew McCormack piano
Larry Bartley bass
Troy Miller drums


Tour dates

14 March 2014: Walton-on-Thames – Riverhouse Arts Centre
16 March 2014: Colchester – Colchester Arts Centre
18 March 2014: London – Ronnie Scott’s
19 March 2014: Grimbsy – Grimsby Jazz
20 March 2014: Leeds – Seven Arts
21 March 2014: Sheffield – Millennium Hall
22 March 2014: Shrewsbury – The Hive
23 March 2014: Herts – Herts Jazz Club
24 March 2014: Cheltenham – The Everyman
27 March 2014: Cambridge – Cambridge Jazz Club
4 April 2014: Altrincham – The Cinnamon Club
5 April 2014: Gateshead – The Sage
6 April 2014: Bristol – Hen and Chicken
 


LYTE Records – LR022 (2014)

lyterecords.com