Issie Barratt: Astral Pleasures (2008)
Composer/baritone saxophonist Issie Barratt's music is nothing if not distinctive. The balance it strikes between ensemble and soloists usually comes down on the side of the former. Soloists such as guitarist Mike Outramwhose work sometimes recalls Chris Spedding's in the early line-ups of trumpeter Ian Carr's band Nucleusand saxophonist Mark Lockheart, however, ensure that there's enough stimulation for listeners whose interests fall into one camp or the other. Lockheart is a one-time member of the British band Loose Tubes, and in a sense there's a similar density linking that band's music with the work captured for posterity here. That said, in her writing and direction Barratt doesn't strive for the effect of irking the purists in the way that band arguably did.
The reflective air of "Hold Down The Moon" proves also that it's possible to have that effect even without making it obvious. Barratt's writing on this one is as refined as anything here and the music is drilled to a point where it's just the right side of losing that feeling of spontaneity. Barratt is a supreme colorist, appreciative of how the palette can be supplemented through instrumental pairings or the deployment of small groups within the larger ensemble setting. In solo flugelhornist Steve Waterman picks his way anything but tentatively over potentially treacherous ground and the same goes for Lockheart on tenor sax. On the basis of the evidence here Lockheart has become a really distinctive voice on that horn, hinting as he does at all sorts of rhythmic ambiguity at the same time as the underlying logic of his work is never in any doubt.
The initial anxiety evident on "Oodley Groove (the shorter)" intimates at the notion of an ensemble on the verge of dissolution, which in itself is tribute to the concision of Barratt's writing, especially when trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz emerges from the ensemble like a habitual midday drinker used to two hour lunch breaks. James Allsop on bass clarinet plays the role of his stability in the midst of turbulent surroundings and the fade, as is nearly always the way with these things, is frustrating. It's just a niggle however, and it takes nothing away from the distinctiveness of Barratt as a composer nor the empathy of this ensemble for her work.
Track Listing: Eva Naim, Mega Supreme; Astral Pleasures; Hold Down The Moon; Brayards Road; Dublin Soundscape; Oodley Groove (the shorter).
Personnel: Sid Gould: trumpet, flugelhorn; Steve Waterman: trumpet, flugelhorn; Anders Bergcrantz: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Armstrong: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mark Bassey: trombone; Pete North: trombone; Jeremy Price: trombone, euphonium; Jim Rattigan: french horn; Rowland Alexander: flutes; Pete Whyman: saxophones, clarinets; Mark Lockheart: saxophones, clarinets; James Allsop: saxophones, clarinets; Mick Foster: saxophones, clarinets; Rob Townsend: saxophones, clarinets; Liam Noble: piano; Mike Outram: guitar; Rob Millet: vibes; Dudley Phillips: bass; Simon Pearson: drums; Fiona Clifton-Welker: harp; Chris Wells: percussion.