‘Andromeda’ – Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5

AlexGarnett

HARD-BOPPING, full-swinging and with two solid tenors upfront, this new offering from Alex Garnett’s ‘Bunch of 5’ project packs mighty punch after punch!

Over the last couple of decades, Alex Garnett has been much in demand as sideman, session player, composer and arranger, and his excellent quartet album of 2011, Serpent (Whirlwind), marked his long-awaited solo debut. Now, with a stellar quintet which also features tenorist Tim Armacost (read Garnett’s entertaining liner notes on the beginnings of the saxmen’s acquaintance), the ‘bunch’ hit the heights with a rollicking, eight-track, hour-plus performance which pretty much shines as brightly as any live gig. Completing the line-up are Liam Noble (piano), Michael Janisch (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

The combination of the leader’s tone and delivery is every bit as commanding as Rollins or Getz, whether rocking widely or producing those gorgeously lush, reaching phrases – and the diversity and inventiveness of the strong Garnett/Armacost musical partnership here is compelling throughout. Most compositions are Garnett’s and express the skill of his writing which, as he describes, “reflect brief moments in a twenty-year passage of time through my musical life experience”.

Opener So Long!, a beautifully straight-down-the-line swinger inspired by an early ’90s Benny Golson concert, is infectious in its ‘old standard’ melody and simplicity. Following, the childlike interruptedness of Charlie’s World (Garnett explains all) is both endearing and fascinating, Noble’s mischievous, jarring pianism a delight as Janisch also ‘comes out to play’; and there are some sparkling individual improvs from both tenors. Buoyantly lyrical, title number Andromeda (after the galaxy) finds Garnett and Armacost intertwining so richly, Maddren’s muted snare and toms effecting a certain weightlessness – and listen out for the magical, nebulous aura of both Noble and Janisch.

A rip-roaring, pacier version of Garnett’s Delusions of Grandma (heard also on Robbie Harvey’s Blowin’ that Old Tin Can release) is a show-stealer, the two unison tenor lines remarkably staying together before breaking into extemporised abandon; with Garnett clucking grittily and Armacost flowing freely, they eventually duel it out unaccompanied – an absolute joy, especially with the added complex solo display of Maddren. An arrangement of the Burns/Mercer tune Early Autumn reflects the influence of Stan Getz on Garnett, and both saxophonists here do well to summon his spirit with their own warm, deeply-felt searchings; and, written for this quintet, Her Tears exudes an unswerving edge which its composer explains as ‘lovers growing apart’, reflected in the fascinatingly terse melodic and rhythmic conversations shared throughout the band.

Holmes (Inspector, no less), though devoid of fiddle, opens with a bright Mancini (Clouseau?) swagger, clearly enjoyed by the five – blithe yet propulsive, it swings with a great joint sax melody. And, to close, the band make a good fist of Garnett’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s familiar I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm as it rattles along with exuberant, breathless and extended improvisation from all corners – and when the saxmen stand aside, the focus on Noble, Janisch and Maddren confirms both the intelligence and musicality of their performances throughout, including a dazzlingly high-flying piano solo (with the merest hint of Isley Brothers in its chordal conclusion!).

Releasing 26 January 2015, and currently being toured, Andromeda is weighty, fun, and available from Whirlwind Recordings. More information, promo video and purchasing here.

 

Alex Garnett tenor saxophone
Tim Armacost tenor saxophone
Liam Noble piano
Michael Janisch double bass
James Maddren drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4664 (2015)

‘The New Straight Ahead’ – NYSQ (New York Standards Quartet)

NYSQ

THESE GUYS just wanna have fun!… and how clearly that message is conveyed, from the amiable tenor/piano intro and throughout The New Straight Ahead. Taking on ‘the jazz standards’ and setting them off in all kinds of new directions – avoiding the cracks and potholes of mediocrity and tedium – is no mean feat. But, on this joyous Whirlwind debut, the NYSQ (New York Standards Quartet) possess experience and passion, in spades, to carry it off.

Although a clear and immediate studio recording, the mood here is one of stumbling in off the street to find the most gloriously-ebullient four-piece at full tilt, buying a beer or two and waiting to discover which unlikely jazz avenue is traversed next. And up on stage, bringing this affectionate, colorised journey to life, are renowned musicians Tim Armacost (saxes), David Berkman (piano), Daiki Yasukagawa (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums).

Take, for example, It Don’t Mean a Thing which, contrary to the sentiment of the original lyric, finds a new spirit when taken on a surprisingly different rhythmic path. Both the dissective reworking and Tim Armacost’s soprano resemble the inquiring artistry of Wayne Shorter, Ellington’s original rapid swing smoothed into a broader, more leisurely, but still upbeat tempo. Evergreen (or browny orange) Autumn Leaves opens in familiar enough territory, but then takes off apace to Armacost’s liquid tenor, the band audaciously dipping in and out of 7/8 with palpable glee. Daiki Yasukagawa’s perfectly pliant bass sets up a boisterous interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s The Maze which bristles to a fervid bass and drum propulsion, with scintillating solo displays both from ‘Dexter’ Armacost and David Berkman at the piano.

Delightfully lush chords introduce When You Wish Upon a Star – mellow Scott Hamilton-style meanderings on the classic Disney tune of Harline/Washington; Remember finds Armacost in a perky Stan Getz state of mind, its assured, effervescent pulse courtesy of Gene Jackson’s flamboyance at the kit; and the piano quirkiness of Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso is embraced by Berkman, with Armacost’s sax offering an added dimension. Ah-leu-cha is one of the stand-outs of the album, a near-eight-minute offering which carries Charlie Parker’s original along on a wave of soprano-infused energy; and, in contrast, beautifully lyrical tenor improvisations on Jobim’s Zingaro relax to a gently shimmering South American piano and percussion sundown.

Released on 22 July 2014, this fourth NYSQ release warmly demonstrates how adaptable, in qualified hands, such old favourites can be… and it’s a great vibe to return to again and again. The band are clearly proud of their current eight years together, touring internationally, and happy to quote a Tokyo nightclub listener’s compliment: “I can hear each guy doing his own thing, but you’re doing it together”.

Visit the album page at Whirlwind for more information, promo video and purchasing.

 

Tim Armacost tenor and soprano saxophones
David Berkman piano
Daiki Yasukagawa double bass
Gene Jackson drums

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4654 (2104)