Recent visits to London for book tour commitments have brought me closer to the British jazz scene than I have been for some time. The club performance and recording lists have grown considerably in the past few years and I plan to map out various artist locations in future visits so as to bring matters into sharper focus.
This month we start matters with a look at the Edition record label which produces recordings from contemporary performers relatively unknown to American audiences. A trio dubbed "Bourne Davis Kane" consisting of pianist Matthew Bourne, drummer Steven Davis and bassist Dave Kane has released Lost Something described as "anarchic homegrown free jazz." The Kevin Figes quartet recorded Circular Motion featuring pianist Jim Blomfield, bassist Riaan Vosloo, drummer Tim Giles, with Figes on alto sax who has been credited as having a "hard, rhythmical swing and a contrasting gift for composing memorable, sensitive tunes." And Welsh bassist Paula Gardner led her trio through a session Hot Lament which featured saxophonist/flutist/percussionist Lee Goodall and drummer Mark O'Connor. The CD was hailed as "vibrant and forceful, a sheer masterclass in the art of the trio."
I've been listening to the CD Catching Sunlight: Music for an Imaginary Film recorded by pianist/composer Dave Stapleton. Included in the personnel for the date are drummer Elliot Bennett, the aforementioned bassist Paula Gardner and featured trumpeter Neil Yates. In addition, Stapleton has written background music for the Lunar Saxophone Quartet which includes Joel Garthwaite on soprano, Hannah Riches on alto, Lewis Evans on tenor and Lauren Hamer on baritone.
The session invites immediate comparison with the legendary Sketches of Spain effort created generations ago by Gil Evans and Miles Davis. In this new CD the trumpet sounds of Neil Yates are featured against the lines of the saxophone choir. Here the resemblance to Sketches of Spain ends. Stapleton has ventured into several compelling harmonic and rhythmic territories and evoked colors which occasionally reprise those created by Estonian composer Arvo Part. The mood is distinctly European and the textures, while daringly amorphous, are articulately resonant. Also, the music frequently references the funk feel of the 70's.
Listening to these British artists, one cannot help but feel the constraints put upon us when we continually speak of jazz in exclusively American terms.