THERE ARE TIMES, on my long and increasingly rewarding musical journey, that I feel urged to express gratitude to particular musicians whose work has become a long-term source of enjoyment and inspiration.
Falling firmly into this category is the instrumental and compositional prowess of reedsman Tim Garland, for many years now a respected mainstay of the British jazz scene. With a long roll-call of collaborators, projects and albums (most notably Chick Corea, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, Dean Street Underground Orchestra and his own Lighthouse Trio), this most assured of saxophonists continues to develop and expand his artistic vocabulary, always with that warm signature vibrato.
Signed to progressive label Edition Records, Garland has now released this double album, Songs to the North Sky – featuring an impressive, interchanging quartet (seven musicians in all), and expertly configured orchestral/percussive forces – which represents a still higher pinnacle of writing and performance.
Part One focuses on the quartet material: eight tracks which bounce with characteristic ebullience, but also shimmer with expansive and often emotional beauty. Tim Garland’s dependable yet always exciting rhythm-maker, Asaf Sirkis, is key to proceedings, combining with the bubbling momentum of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and guitarist Ant Law on supercharged opener Uplift! The lightness of Kevin Glasgow’s electric bass and luminous piano of Jason Rebello refract the smooth golden rays of Little Sunshine, over which Garland’s tenor sings mellifluously. A Brother’s Gift finds a more reflective space, courtesy of Law’s steel strings and Sirkis’s distinctive custom kit – and often it’s the small details which please the ear, such as Garland’s ornamental phrasing, and also one particular end-of-phrase expiration here (odd, but true!).
There’s a hint of Earthworks days in the leader’s command of Yes to This, John Turville and Ant Law both sparkling with positivity; The Perth Flight‘s propulsive energy offers a great showcase for both Garland and Rebello; and Farewell to Ed is a delightfully freer episode, enhanced by Law’s subtly overdriven electric guitar explorations. Garland has long been a champion of the bass clarinet, and his unmistakably fluid ‘voice’ is heard in Lammas Days (along with flute), an exuberant celebration of the magic conjured between these versatile musicians. A soprano and piano interpretation of Tom Bahler’s She’s Out of My Life (Michael Jackson) closes this sequence; in less capable hands, so easily mawkish and shallow – but Garland and Rebello elevate it to somewhere very special.
The larger, themed work, Songs to the North Sky – supported by Sage Gateshead and Royal Northern College of Music – forms the second half of this release, and creatively draws on the dramatic open landscapes of Tim’s Garland’s adopted North East England homeland. Whereas 2008’s double album Libra found the composer writing on a larger, symphonic scale (the four-movement Frontier with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), there is an even greater organic balance here, successfully fusing saxes and percussion with The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings. The result is genuinely compelling – a 50-minute episodic jazz/orchestral masterpiece which vividly paints Northumberland’s rugged coastlines and wide skies, Garland often hinting at 20th Century English string writing (Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Rodney Bennett) as well as Glass, Pärt, and even Celtic influences which are colorised by the energetic violin soloing of Magdalena Filipczak. Asaf Sirkis melds perfectly with the suspense of Neil Percy’s classical percussion; and John Patitucci’s four equally interspersed bass interludes are remarkable – certainly not bass ‘fillers’ but, rather, beautifully imagined, skilful miniatures in their own right.
With both CDs regularly alternating in my car audio player for the past couple of weeks, I emphatically recommend this significant new release – and if you’re searching for stars (maybe over Kielder’s dark sky zone)… here they are ★★★★★.
Available from 2 June 2014, listen to samples and buy here.
Tim Garland tenor and soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute
Jason Rebello piano (tracks 2, 5, 7 & 8)
John Turville piano (tracks 3, 4 & 6)
Geoffrey Keezer piano (track 1)
Asaf Sirkis drum kit, custom percussion set, hang
Ant Law electric and steel string guitars (tracks 1, 3, 4 & 6)
Kevin Glasgow electric bass (tracks 2, 5 & 7)
The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings
John Patitucci double and electric basses
Neil Percy tuned and classical percussion
Magdalena Filipczak solo violin
Edition Records – EDN1051 (2014)