One of Britain's brightest young trumpet/flugelhorn talentshe was nominated for Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards in 2004 and is so nominated again this year (the results are due later this month)Tom Arthurs' progress towards wider breakthrough appears admirably nonchalant. Indeed, on occasion he seems as focused on his skills as a chocolatier and pastry cook (and, still only 27 years old, is beginning to acquire the waistline to prove it).
A founder member of London's adventurous, self-help F-ire Collectiveother luminaries include saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, drummer Seb Rochford and guitarist Jonny PhillipsArthurs' Squash Recipe (Babel, 2006) was an album of gentle, understated lyric beauty made with pianist Bruce McKinnon and drummer Joe Sorbara, musicians he'd met at Canada's Banff Centre for the Arts in 2001. The album was the antithesis of flashy, attention-seeking music making and, accordingly, made a limited sales impactbut it had depth and intelligence and further enhanced Arthurs' reputation amongst those who heard it.
Mesmer, made in collaboration with pianist Richard Fairhurst, is the result of another slow-cooking friendship. Arthurs and Fairhurst met three years ago, when the trumpeter sat in with Fairhurst's group Nest at the BBC Jazz Awards concert, and is another exercise in delicate, low decibel, conversational music. This time there's not even a drummer to allude to motor rhythms. The album is made up of interactive, truly collaborative improvisations between flugelhorn and piano, avoiding extremes of pitch and intensity and instead exploring fragments of melody and subtleties of harmony. It's pretty, almost feminine music, with an undercurrent of harmonic astringency and, with its beat as often implied as made explicit, unusual rhythmic sophistication.
Almost inevitably, Mesmer is likely to be labeled meditative, but that's a lazy analogy all too often applied to lazy, unchallenging, noodling background music. The music here is deeper than that, and by no means purely introspective. "Contemplative" is a more accurate description. Arthurs and Fairhurst listen intently to each other, and to the sonorities of their two instruments, and their conversations are so well integrated that they are at times almost conspiratorial.
Unlike Arthurs' chocolate recipes, Mesmer is low-fat through and through, and the icing isn't spread on top but sprinkled sparingly inside, to be savored by those prepared to slow down, focus and discover it. It's a delightful collection of music and, like Squash Recipe before it, enhances a steadily growing reputation.
Personnel: Tom Arthurs: flugelhorn; Richard Fairhurst: piano.