IVO NEAME is, without doubt, an effulgent beacon amongst British contemporary jazz pianists. Familiar as one third of much-lauded supergroup Phronesis, and cornerstone of both Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet and Norwegian saxman Marius Neset’s projects, he is unsurprisingly much in demand as live performer and recording artist.
2012’s Yatra found Neame breaking out of these roles to interpret, in octet proportions, the excitement and intricacy of his distinctive, original compositions. Three years on, re-scaling to quintet format, new release Strata continues to reveal new layers of sound and texture through a challenging, saturated landscape of snappy arrangements and broadly extemporised freedom. From his previous album, Ivo reintroduces the solid musical personalities of tenorist Tori Freestone, vibraphone player Jim Hart, plus trusted drummer Dave Hamblett; and, adding to his own line-up of piano, synths and accordion, he also welcomes the considerable expertise of bassist Tom Farmer.
Before recording, the band were able to explore and fine-tune these eight new compositions via a series of live gigs, which explains both the confidence and sense of creative abandon on display here; captured over just two days in the studio, that immediacy is preserved. Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: “We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.”
Indeed, the strength of this sound world – far from any preconception of ‘jazz quintet’ – lies in the desire to explore new atmospheres, arising from strong concepts, through unfettered improvisational exposition and varying instrumental seams. Title track Strata illustrates this well, building from the simplest, dreamy piano motif set against a synth-led pulse until the richness of Tori Freestone’s tenor carries it skywards; and from thereon, the layers eloquently build, shift, then fade from view. Personality Clash feels wonderfully anarchic, with the pianist at his glorious, high-flying best against the elevated buoyancy of bass, drums and vibes – and Freestone’s characteristically forceful, wide vibrato searching is a joy.
Ivo Neame cites early ’60s album ‘Coltrane plays the Blues’ as a classic – and OCD Blues, with Freestone’s brooding tenor motif, suggests something of the opening, pressing urgency of Coltrane’s ‘Mr Knight’. At almost ten minutes’ duration, it traverses many planes; sometimes hitting Genesis-like prog grandeur, then flying like the wind through rippling conversations between Neame and Hart, or stratospherically drifting to bowed vibes, sustained accordion and shimmering percussion. Miss Piggy leans more towards Neame’s work with Kairos 4tet, the measured, falling ballad firmly led by Freestone’s known ability to endlessly pour out line after line of beauteous melody.
Breathtakingly complex, Crise de Nerfs jitters to the engaging delirium of Tori Freestone’s flute and Jim Hart’s dizzying vibes display. Alongside Farmer and Hamblett, Neame is more the rhythm-maker here, as well as adding chordal colour… and a fabulous ritenuto again changes the landscape before a final flourish. Piano trio Eastern Chant embodies the spirit of Phronesis, heightened by the swinging, rising bass phrases of Tom Farmer – a great showcase for Ivo Neame’s pianistic creativity. Flute and accordion in Folk Song are hypnotically redolent of Marius Neset’s Scandinavian-wrought jazz, including a chirpy tenor-and-vibes interlude; and, finally, a pictorialisation of Snowfall is magically realised through the particularly delicate, spacial interaction of these five players.
A towering statement from a venturesome British team, Strata is available from Whirlwind – further information, promo video and purchasing options here. And take a look at the entertaining title track video!
Ivo Neame piano, accordion, synths
Tori Freestone tenor sax, flute
Jim Hart vibes
Tom Farmer double bass
Dave Hamblett drums
Whirlwind Recordings – WR4674 (2015)