Bassist Chris Laurence, nearing sixty, has been a fixture on the British scene for many years, working regularly in the jazz sphere with artists including reedman John Surman, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor. He's recorded pop sessions with the likes of Elvis Costello, Sting and David Gilmour, and remains active in the classical community, playing on orchestral film soundtracks including The Constant Gardener
and The Man in the Iron Mask
New View is Laurence's long-overdue debut as a leader. With a lineup featuring vibraphonist Frank Ricotti, guitarist John Parricelli and drummer Martin France, comparisons to late 1960s-early 1970s Gary Burton are to be expected. And with tracks like Surman's "Going for a Burton," it's clear that's exactly what Laurence has in mind.
The references are many, including opening the disc with longtime Burton collaborator/bassist Steve Swallow's "Falling Grace." However, unlike Swallow, who switched exclusively to electric bass in the early 1970s, Laurence's allegiance remains with the acoustic variety. His warm, rounded tone states the theme to Swallow's classic over a rubato wash of color from Ricotti, but when France and Parricelli enter, the gentle but interactive pulse that has defined his work is in clear evidence.
Laurence's group is notable for the acclaim each member has in Britain, while not yet achieving deserved acclaim in North America. Whether it's the clean electric tone of his work on "Falling Grace," the distorted edge of his own buoyant 5/4 "Scrim" or his classical guitar work on Wheeler's melancholy ballad "Where Do We Go From Here?" (also featuring a beautiful arco intro by Laurence), Parricelli is a musical chameleon who paradoxically retains his personality. Like Parricelli, Ricotti is a player who leans towards spare interpretation, abstract coloration and a lyrical approach to soloing.
France is another shape shifter who can transform a delicate piece like Stan Sulzmann's "Jack Stix," giving it just the right hint of force and purposeful tension and release. His lone solo on "Going for a Burton" is a combination of potent force and strong construction, while he's in perfect synch on Wheeler's tango-esque "Sly Eyes. Vocalist Norma Winstone guests on the characteristically harmonic ambiguity of Joni Mitchell's "Last Chance Lost" and the bass pattern-driven "Canter," another Wheeler tune that features a less idiosyncratic but nevertheless Frisell-like solo from Parricelli.
Laurence is clearly a democratic leader, but what he brings to New View, in addition to an astute choice of band mates and material, is an homage to Burton's guitar-based groups that transcends mere mimicry. It's a fine debut and one that will hopefully be the start of a somewhat late-in-life solo career.
Personnel: Chris Laurence: bass; Frank Ricotti: vibraphone; John Parricelli: electric and acoustic guitars; Martin France: drums; Norma Winstone: vocals (5, 10).