THE HIGH praise I can bestow on saxophonist Matt Anderson is that, on his equally-balanced collection of interpretations and new compositions inspired by jazz icon Wayne Shorter, I genuinely need to refer to the credits to check the provenance of each of the eight extensive numbers!
The Wild Flower Sextet takes its name from Shorter’s piece of the same name – from much-lauded 1966 album Speak No Evil – and comprises Anderson (tenor sax), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Alex Munk (guitar), Jamil Sherriff (piano), Sam Vicary (double bass) and Sam Gardner (drums).
From the very first bars of Anderson’s confident opener, Blues for Wayne, there’s a discernible Jazz Messengers buoyancy to this debut album recording which quickly identifies the tightness of his ensemble; and whilst keeping alive the tradition of joyous, swinging mainstream jazz, this relatively young personnel – including the spirited playing of guitarist Alex Munk – injects Anderson’s and Shorter’s writing with considerable pizazz. The leader’s own tenor is commanding both in its resonance and uninhibitedness, rallying his players to a full and fluent sound which exudes real enjoyment.
Another of Matt Anderson’s originals, Sfumato, struts its stuff with all the familiarity of an established ’60s standard (reminiscences of Johnny Dankworth not far off) thanks to memorable trumpet and tenor lines, as well as pacey guitar improvisation. But it must take a certain amount of fearlessness to approach the venerable music of Wayne Shorter. Nonetheless, the sextet’s reading of Masqualero feels impressively unrestrained, allowing efflorescent freedom of expression; and the combination of Laura Jurd’s blazing trumpet and Munk’s wailing guitar over Jamil Sheriff’s Rhodes, all to the bass and drums turbulence of Sam Vicary and Sam Gardner, provides the exciting edginess of experimental fusion.
Burning Man again indicates Anderson’s prowess as a writer – a beautifully melodic retro bossa with a roaming spirit as free as a wildflower meadow, creating shifting sweeps of colour (so much fine detailing here from all players, including the effective simplicity of unison piano and guitar lines). The broad canvas of J.G., at over nine minutes’ duration, finds the sextet in a wonderfully ebullient frame of mind – one of those atmospheres to simply ease back into as it scales luscious semitonal chord progressions, featuring delicious solos from Jurd and Anderson; and, with an introductory inertia magically evoking the memory of Weather Report, Wayne Shorter’s Fall beautifully treads the fine line between freedom and structure over complex, constantly ticking drums and cymbals from Gardner (Munk’s involvement a reminder of WR’s final release, This Is This, with Carlos Santana guesting).
Two further Shorter tunes complete the album. Three Clowns (from Weather Report’s popular Black Market) is strangely unfamiliar, devoid of Joe Zawinul’s trademark keyboards, but compelling to hear Anderson’s relaxed Shorteresque melodies instead; and the joyous Lester Left Town (from Messenger days, circa 1960) is brought bang up to date in a fabulously audacious shifting-tempi arrangement, Sam Gardner’s presence at the kit especially imposing (Mr Blakey would surely approve!).
Released on 9 March 2015 on the Jellymould Jazz label, Wildflower is as fresh and imaginative as they come – this sextet deserves to flourish.
Matt Anderson tenor saxophone
Laura Jurd trumpet
Alex Munk electric guitar
Jamil Sheriff piano
Sam Vicary double bass
Sam Gardner drums
Jellymould Jazz – JJ017 (2014)