‘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)

‘Road Ahead’ – Mark Perry / Duncan Eagles Quintet

RoadAhead

GREAT TO FIND this big league seven-piece from London’s flourishing contemporary jazz scene recording together, presenting a set of ten colourful, original compositions (first aired at 2012’s London Jazz Festival) by leaders Mark Perry and Duncan Eagles. 

Having already established themselves as versatile instrumentalists in a variety of ensembles and projects, trumpeter Perry and tenorist Eagles bring together an accomplished ensemble who, together, produce a satisfyingly full sound – Gareth Lockrane on flutes, Sam Leak at the piano, double bassist Max Luthert and drummer Chris Nickolls, plus the wordless vocals of Ona Onabule.

Flip of a Coin provides the heads-up on the intent of this quintet line-up, Sam Leak the pacemaker with a determined piano rhythm, Luthert and Nickolls maintaining the steady but solid energy. Onabule’s vocals enhance the sustained frontline of trumpet and tenor before Perry and Eagles head off to solo spiritedly. Mark Perry’s delivery is undubitably incisive, complemented by Eagles’ rich and fluid explorations – certainly an in-form partnership. In the upbeat Chord Game, Sam Leak demonstrates the clear, spacial and considered piano technique which makes his own album recordings so appealing; and Perry and Eagles freely bounce ideas off each other. Easy-going Shawty and the still mellower Forever make good use of Onabule’s soulful voice, Eagles’ solo tenor in the latter just sublime. Barters Band raises a smile, Gareth Lockrane’s lithe flute the key to its chirpy ’70s sitcom’ flavour – the rhythm section ticks along amiably, a great foundation for Leak’s clean solo lines and fleetly-placed chords, whilst Perry and Eagles dance closely to Lockrane’s tune.

The tempered, late-night feel of Wray Common is perfect for Onabule’s subtle vocal additions, Luthert’s lyrical yet precise bass pairing well with Leak’s pianistic clarity, and trumpet and sax soporifically intertwining. In contrast, the agitated G.T. (a tribute to American saxophonist Gary Thomas) finds Eagles and Perry soloing grittily against a mysterious piano, bass and drums riff (great animation from Chris Nickolls) which offers more than a hint of ‘TV detective’!

Perry’s expressive, plaintive solo trumpet opens mid-tempo title track Road Ahead which affords Sam Leak the freedom to roam (and rather elegantly at that). One Last Kiss is beautifully poised, Lockrane and Onabule again adding their individual character to this very attractive, breezy number. With an element of emotional longing, and drawing this entertaining album to a close, Remember features softer, slurred tones from Mark Perry, velvety bass flute from Gareth Lockrane, and fine ensemble playing all round.

Launching ‘Road Ahead’ at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, on 17th November (as part of the 2013 London Jazz Festival), and releasing 2nd December, the quintet are set to tour in Spring 2014. Promo video, SoundCloud samples and more information here.


Mark Perry
Trumpet  markperrymusic.com
Duncan Eagles Saxophones  duncaneagles.co.uk
Gareth Lockrane Flutes  garethlockrane.com
Sam Leak Piano  samleak.com
Max Luthert Double bass  maxluthert.co.uk
Chris Nickolls Drums
Ola Onabule Vocals  ona-onabule.co.uk

Sleeve design and illustration by Alban Low

F-ire – F-IRECD 65 (2013)