REVIEW: ‘Cairn’ – Fergus McCreadie

THE SIGHT of a neatly constructed mound or pillar of stones on a barren, hilltop landscape immediately changes our response to that environment – the sense of others treading the path ahead of us and leaving a landmark for all who continue to pass along. Anologously, that may apply to any musician influenced by what has gone before, including pianist Fergus McCreadie.

His original compositions certainly reverberate with the passion and vigour of Phronesis, e.s.t and others. But new album Cairn, with double bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson, signals why, unquestionably, this trio possesses a distinctive character of its own. The root of that lies in both the artistic heritage and the landscape of McCreadie’s Scottish homeland; so this hour of nine contemporary jazz numbers feels steeped in an authenticity that intrinsically connects to traditional folk music. Already with a string of accolades to his name, including ‘Album of the Year’ in Parliamentary and Scottish jazz awards (for self-released 2018 debut, Turas) and finalist in BBC Jazz Musician of the Year, the pianist has also appeared on recordings which include those of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and Graham Costello’s Strata.

The mists of history and folklore spread their fingers across opening North, where inflected piano melodies ride deep-bass fifths as it gains stature; then, breaking through at the summit, sunlit title track Cairn especially reveals McCreadie’s deft ornamentation around the soft, shuffling groove provided by bassist and drummer. Piano explorations ripple and dart with strong improvisational conviction – a theme reinforced throughout the more rhythmic episodes of the album, including the countrified, Bruce Hornsby-like momentum of Across Flatlands which is purposeful though undeniably and melodically attractive. Over eight minutes, the whirling, breathless rock drive and jazz interest of Jig is a stand-out, featuring intensely fervid rhythms from Bowden and Henderson while McCreadie’s white-hot keyboard figures dazzle.

An impressive prehistoric henge in Orkney provides the inspiration for mystically waltzing The Stones of Brodgar, and the intensifying lap of Tide paints wide-sky imagery. But it’s An Old Friend’s slow-release folk atmospheres, across nine minutes, which are the most affecting. The augmented-chord conclusion of its plaintive Scots theme is so bewitching, before pianist and bassist each offer out their homespun improvisations through an endless valley-floor vista. Tree Climbing somehow suggests a transatlantic country/folk connection, proudly bustling and reeling to rapid riffs, chords and bass lines; and to close, Cliffside has the cyclical animation favoured by bands such as Mammal Hands, but always coruscating with McCreadie’s silver-stream thread of extemporisation.

Vibrant, progressive, energetic, wistful – McCreadie, Bowden and Henderson together have the power to transport mind and heart back to the visual beauty of Scotland’s wild places. Such are the reasons why, in every generation, we’ll never cease to be sustained and buoyed by the spell of creative music.

Released on 29 January 2021 in CD, vinyl, mp3 and WAV formats, Cairn is available from Edition Records.

 

Fergus McCreadie piano
David Bowden double bass
Stephen Henderson drums

fergusmccreadie.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1165 (2021)

RECENT LISTENING: February 2020 (1)

Old Wow – Sam Lee
Sam Lee, James Keay, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Josh Green, Bernard Butler, Letty Stott, Yusuf Narcin, Anthony Albrecht, Alice Zawadzki, Matthew Barley, Saul Eisenberg, Elizabeth Frazer, Mara Carlyle, Cosmo Sheldrake, Rowan ‘Dizraeli’ Sawday, Adrian Freedman, Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, Ben Edwards
Release date: 31 January 2020 (Cooking Vinyl)
samleesong.co.uk

Shoot the Moon – Mezcla
Michael Butcher, Joshua Elcock, Ben MacDonald, Alan Benzie, David Bowden, Stephen Henderson, Steve Forman
Release date: 7 February 2020 (Ubuntu Music)
mezcla.co.uk/music

The Letter – Shri
Shri Sriram, Bugge Wesseltoft, Paolo Vinaccia, Arild Andersen, Tore Brunborg, Ben Castle
Release date: 13 March 2020 (Jazzland Recordings)
shri-sriram.bandcamp.com

Truce – Markus Reuter
Markus Reuter, Fabio Trentini, Asaf Sirkis
Release date: 17 January 2020 (MoonJune Records)
markus-reuter-moonjune.bandcamp.com

Earth – Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group
Dave Liebman, Matt Vashlishan, Bobby Avey, Tony Marino, Alex Ritz
Release date: 7 February 2020 (Whaling City Sound)
lydialiebman.com / davidliebman.com / whalingcitysound.com

New York – Copenhagen (EP) – Mette Juul
Mette Juul, Mike Moreno, Lars Danielsson, Ulf Wakenius, Per Møllehøj
Release date: 6 March 2020 (Universal Music)
mette-juul.com/music

‘Effervescence’ – Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra

effervescence

TAKE A LOOK at that cover art – a clue to the polychromatic flamboyance of this new release from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Formed fourteen years ago by renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, the TSYJO has consistently provided an important, ongoing, step-up platform for young jazz musicians. This third album is a real joy because, rather than reflecting any insecure naivety of youth, Effervescence emphatically displays the orchestra’s unfettered go-for-it creativity, all backed up by solid musicality. In fact, all eight of these sumptuous tracks fizz without any trace of inhibition, Smith’s choice of material showcasing the players’ versatility.

The breathless, strummed pace of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey sets the tone. Complete with feisty wah-wah trumpet section and rolling saxes, Liam Shortall’s brash trombone antics are met with appreciative band cheers; and Helena Kay’s whirling, spirited clarinet connects with the piece’s origins. Jerome Kern’s familiar phrases in The Way You Look Tonight (lavishly arranged by Florian Ross) swing with life-affirming positivity, summoning a delicious alto spotlight from Adam Jackson, whilst a tangible rhythmic reduction clears the way for trombonist Kevin Garrity’s sublime, held-back solo. Glitzy Blues March (Benny Golson) parades to snappy snare, with infectious piano swing at its heart; and Florian Ross’ expansive arrangement of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty (more familiar in trio format) is imaginatively colorised by guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Pete Johnstone, including an intricate feature for drummer Stephen Henderson.

From within the orchestra’s ranks, trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ composition Tam O’Shanter coolly saunters to crunchy, pitch-bent rock guitar and high-blasting trumpets before its switch to an effusive, driven, spy-thriller of a middle section; and the big-band swing of Nefertiti (Miles Davis, arr. Ross) is becalmed for Michael Butcher’s lush tenor solo, supported by smooth, sustained trombone voices. The rapidity of Things To Come is audacious (you can almost sense Dizzy Gillespie applauding Sean Gibbs’ display from the wings), whilst the orchestra’s sensitivity to crescendi and diminuendi is especially notable, underpinning a fluvial alto solo from Helena Kay – altogether an utterly convincing performance. And Christian Jacob’s tightly-swung arrangement of Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, featuring tenorist Samuel Tessier, is both sleek and snappy.

Entertainingly feel-good, all the way, Tommy Smith and his players are to be congratulated on this exuberant release.

Effervescence is available from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra website or Amazon.

 

Tommy Smith director, producer

Helena Kay alto sax, clarinet
Adam Jackson alto sax
Samuel Tessier tenor sax
Michael Butcher tenor sax
Heather Macintosh baritone sax
Tom Walsh trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Joshua Elcock trumpet
Christos Stylianides trumpet
Cameron T Duncan trumpet
Tom Clay Harris trumpet
Michael Owers trombone
Liam Shortall trombone
Kevin Garrity trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Joe Williamson guitar
Fergus McCreadie piano
Pete Johnstone piano
David Bowden acoustic bass
Stephen Henderson drums

Also available: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Beauty & the Beast – an original work composed and directed by Tommy Smith, with guest saxophonist Bill Evans.

tsyjo.com
snjo.co.uk
tommy-smith.co.uk

Spartacus Records – STS024 (2016)

‘In Motion’ – Square One

squareone

A YOUNG QUARTET from Glasgow, Square One’s debut release In Motion quickly catches the attention with its imaginative compositional breadth, sparkling energy and nuanced elegance.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 4 October 2016 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Joe Williamson guitar
Peter Johnstone piano
David Bowden bass
Stephen Henderson drums, percussion

Website: squareonequartet.com
Video: In Motion album trailer
Album artwork: lizzydoe.co.uk 

Self-released – SQ1CD1601 (2016)