‘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)

‘Places’ – Aquarium / Sam Leak

placesr300-scaled500

WITH their eponymous album (Babel Label, 2011), Aquarium presented a mature and distinctive debut on the UK’s vibrant contemporary jazz scene. ‘Places’, their much-anticipated follow-up on Jellymould Jazz, confirms that this quartet of creative, hard-working musicians, led by pianist and composer Sam Leak, is continuing to develop a very special and captivating sound.

Leak clearly puts heart and soul into his writing, as well as his playing; the emotion and conviction are there for all to hear across these eight originals – from the dark openings of Milan, through the almost anarchic Scribbles and Scrawls, to the feel-good of Daybreak.

James Allsopp gives an assured lead on tenor, offering rich tone and beautifully fluent melodies, as well as some wonderfully screeching episodes! When Allsopp introduces another angle – bass clarinet – it hints at English folksong (I’m thinking ‘Finzi, Vaughan Williams’) creating a mood sometimes mysterious, but always delightful. Calum Gourlay (bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums), now both familiar names on the circuit, must be a dream to work with – close-knit yet adventurous, and evidently ‘in tune’ with the many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns that are conjured by Leak and Allsopp. Some may describe this as ‘chamber’ jazz, but that perhaps belies the fact that this is inspired and stimulating original music of the highest calibre.

The opening title track, Places, initially suggests (as does Marrakech) an old standard favourite, with Allsopp providing its lyrical melody, but soon growing into something more complex and pacey. Milan builds with a troubled undercurrent, eventually transforming into a second section of delicate, piano-led positivity. Barging in abruptly with a terrific, free and lively swagger is Scribbles and Scrawls (reminiscent of the superb ‘Evensong’ on their debut album). February steals in, bringing with it the most luxurious bass clarinet soloing (Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lara’s Theme’ comes to mind at times!) against Blackmore’s impressive, feathery and persistent brushwork.

Clutter is infectious, Gourlay scampering all over it, before Catherine Grove agitatedly bursts through (Leak reveals an unpleasant back-story to this, when he was attacked at knife-point in this area of London). Nevertheless, it provides a piece characterised by a relentless momentum, with excellent piano improvisation from Leak, and the whole quartet providing an exciting urgency. This studio recording ends on an even keel with the bright and breezy Daybreak.

Concluding the album is a bonus track – a great live broadcast of Milan from London Jazz Festival, courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Jazz Line-Up’, prompting us (as if needed) to catch this quartet on their UK tour which accompanies this album release.

A greatly recommended album from a highly creative pianist/composer, Places is available from Jellymould Jazz and all good jazz outlets.

 

Sam Leak piano
James Allsopp tenor sax, bass clarinet
Callum Gourlay double bass
Joshua Blackmore drums

samleak.com

Jellymould Jazz – JM-JJ010 (2013)