REVIEW: ‘Ever Open Door’ – John Helliwell

‘THE ACTORS AND JESTERS are here, the stage is in darkness and clear…’

An opening line familiar to fans of 1974 pop/rock album ‘Crime of the Century’, If Everyone Was Listening provides the curtain-raiser to former Supertramp saxophonist/clarinettist John Helliwell’s Ever Open Door – an account of easy-flowing jazz performances captured in concert at Chester’s enterprising Storyhouse venue.

This collaboration with fellow Manchester-area artists – creative keyboards guru John Ellis and The Singh String Quartet – presents an interesting range of compositions and arrangements, many by fellow saxophonist (and educator) Andy Scott. They draw on Helliwell’s career, as well as his evolving influences and discoveries which include music by Paolo Fresu, George Butterworth, Jim Scott, and also old bandmates.

Settle into the evening shadows for original delights such as English-folksong-styled Lord Stackhouse (aka Helliwell) and bluesy …It Seemed That Life Was So Wonderful (recognise that ‘Logical’ lyric in the title?), while Peter Gabriel’s introspective Washing of the Water takes on a brighter, hymnal quality. The catalyst for the project, traditional tune Waly Waly, is beautifully shaped, as is extended ‘bonus’ The Ballad of the Sad Young Men; and title track Ever Open Door (by Supertramp’s Rick Davies) offers a rare touch of animation.

Indeed, this 74-minute programme’s outlook is more about serenely melodic mood than adventurous, exuberant improvisation – and maybe a few up-tempo, curveball ‘firecrackers’ would have broken the intended spell. But the intimate, closely-recorded communion of rich tenor sax and clarinet lines, Ellis’s Hammond mastery and the quartet’s plush harmonies is both inspired and warming.

Released on 2 October 2020, Ever Open Door is available from Proper Music.

YouTube videos: The Ballad of the Sad Young Men and Father O’Shea.

 

John Helliwell tenor saxophone, clarinet
John Ellis Hammond B3 organ

THE SINGH STRING QUARTET
Rakhi Singh violin
Simmy Singh violin
Ruth Gibson viola
Ashok Klouda cello

johnhelliwell.com

Challenge Records – CR73511 (2020)

‘ONE’ – Tim Garland

ONE

THE PROSPECT of a new Tim Garland album always raises the pulse… and unquestionably, ONE is no exception.

The saxophonist/composer has, through time and experience, become a treasured mainstay of the UK jazz scene – and his releases of the last couple of years (2014’s Songs to the North Sky and last year’s Return to the Fire) have certainly confirmed that status. The final track of the 2015 album – a recording which rekindled, on vinyl, the acoustic excitement of 1995’s Enter the Fire – featured both longtime collaborator Jason Rebello on Fender Rhodes and versatile guitarist Ant Law in a more electronic groove, presumably sparking the notion of a future project in similar vein.

Well, here it is, in all its splendid jazz-rock magnificence, completing the quartet with Asaf Sirkis (from Lighthouse Trio days) on drums and percussion, plus guests Hossam Ramzy (percussion) and Dionne Bennett (vocals). It’s a thriller of a masterpiece, pretty much from start to finish, with Tim Garland’s instantly-recognisable vibrato and commanding presence heading up a wondrous complexity of textural arrangements, sparkling rhythms and fabulous virtuosity. Garland was, notably, a key player in legendary prog rock and jazz drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks line-ups, and the influence of that sound world is frequently apparent in many of these nine original compositions. Indeed, a similar level of detail certainly keeps this album on loud ‘repeat’ in the car CD player (no track-jumping here!) – a recording which adroitly achieves a perfect synthesis of slick production and spontaneous, improvisatory performance.

Garland and colleagues ‘roadworked’ this material, whilst touring, to both hone and co-own the interpretations which made the final recording. Such acquired confidence is evident from the off, in Sama’i for Peace whose energetic and tricksy ten-beat pulse fuses Sirkis’ Middle Eastern colours, emphasised by Hossam Ramzy’s added percussion, with Genesis-like electronic keyboard and guitar sustenance; and Garland’s soprano exuberance seems to hit new heights. Bright New Year must be one of the most optimistic, blue-sky compositions heard in some time, its shimmering, folksy guitar and piano supporting Garland’s memorable, soaring melodies (Ant Law’s 12-string acoustic adding hard-edged urgency); and the burning drama of The Eternal Greeting demands focus as Garland’s deep tenor richness pirouettes with the gradually building instrumental weave.

Colours of Night ripples with Garland’s signature compositional riffs, echoing his jazz-fusion association with Chick Corea – and the depth of chordal Rhodes and guitar palettes ensure that this quartet always remains strong, without the need for a bassist. Here, Ant Law’s high electric guitar improvisations are both incisive and dextrous, whilst Zawinulesque keyboards and Sirkis’ remarkable konnakol voice send shivers up the spine – this is a band which continually seeks out new combinations to impressive effect. Prototype hits the King Crimson and Yes buttons with vigour, its flawless, percussive synchronisation and Law’s searing guitar recalling that first rush of hearing Robert Fripp or Steve Howe; and Gathering Dark‘s smouldering Mediterranean journey, featuring Jason Rebello’s typical elegant piano improvisation, is full of mercurial interest.

Dionne Bennett’s smoky and earnest vocal adds weight to Garland’s lyrics in Pity the Poor Arms Dealer – a passionate protest song against arms profiteering (though amidst the album’s predominant, instrumental feel-good, it could seem a little incongruous). Foretold is reminiscent of Garland’s excellent Libra album, his multi-layered tenor combining with synthy washes and both Sirkis’ and Ramzy’s percussive elaborations; and to close, Youkay fizzes with the most delicious Weather Reportian fervour – quite possibly the album standout.

Succinctly… it’s difficult to recommend this album too highly.

Released on Edition Records, ONE is available as CD and high-quality download at Bandcamp.

 

Tim Garland soprano and tenor saxophones, additional keyboards and percussion
Asaf Sirkis drums, percussion, konnakol
Jason Rebello piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3 organ, keyboards
Ant Law nylon string, 12 string, 8 string and semi-acoustic guitars
with guests
Hossam Ramzy doholla, Egyptian tabla, karkabu (tracks 1, 4 and 8)
Dionne Bennett vocals (track 7)

timgarland.com

Edition Records – EDN1072 (2016)