The idea of an album conceived for a jazz dance group may set alarm bells ringing for many. Whilst Fast Foot Shuffle was written for the talented JazzCotech Dancers, preconceptions and fears that the music may have been compromised in some way are soon waylaid as one listens to O'Higgins' lively collection of reworked standards and self-penned tunes.
In addition to his regular quintet, O'Higgins enlists the help of Pete Eckford on decks and percussion, plus trombonist Barnaby Dickson on some tracks, creating an exceptional blend of London's "young lions," who each have their own voice, yet together manage to maintain a tight group sound navigating their way through both jazz standards, including the notorious "Giant Steps," and funkier originals with ease.
Almost as if to prove the music has not been in some way diluted for the addition of dancers, the group starts with a frighteningly fast version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop," using only the traditional lineup of tenor, piano, bass and drums. O'Higgins and Cawley (on piano) stretch out over a number of choruses. Unpanicked by the unrelenting tempo, O'Higgins really digs in, playing straight through the changes with a warm, fluid tenor tone. The energy of the piece is maintained by the no less inspired piano solo.
Cawley's real high point however, is the stunning solo in "North Station," a fast samba written by Cesar Mariano. After O'Higgins' fast, twisting soprano solo, Cawley is confident enough to take the pace down and make a space for himself in the music. Slowly the solo builds in excitement, his right hand playing fast melodies whilst the left punctuates the time with phrases that cross the beat in a way that would have made Monk proud.
Just as dexterous, guitarist Mike Outram appears equally at home in Lo-Fi funk mode on tunes such as the blue note-tinged "Sludgepump" (named after O'Higgins tenor horn) and full-on slick jazz. His dark Metheny-esque tone enhances his virtuosic solo on the brisk "South London Samba," amongst others. Incidentally "South London Samba," an O'Higgins original, was given approval by Latin musician Airto Moreira at a gig in Ronnie Scott's, a blessing that he wouldn't give out lightheartedly!
Fast Foot Shuffle is full of stimulating original music, great arrangements and spectacular playing. Despite this, the most impressive aspect of this album is the constant energy put out by the band, playing to its full capability throughout. Perhaps this is why as well as being an amazing album to listen to, it is just as well suited to the lively movements of the JazzCotech Dancers.
Personnel: Dave O'Higgins: tenor & soprano sax;
Mike Outram: guitar;
Tom Cawley: piano, organ, wurlitzer & other noises;
Sam Burgess: double bass & bass guitar;
Simon Lea: drums;
Pete Eckford: percussion & decks;
Barnaby Dickinson: trombone.