Alex Maguire Sextet: Brewed In Belgium (2009)
Keyboard player Alex Maguire has worked with the present day incarnation of the British band Hatfield and the North and clearly he has more than sufficient chops to deal with a range of musical situations.
The fare offered here is often freer than the Hatfield way, however. And when the music goes inside, such as on the opening of "Psychic Warrior," the impression is of a program of music which tries to cover so many bases it compromises individual and collective identity.
As it is, Maguire's soloing is urbane and harmonically sophisticated enough, but his work doesn't really have a strong impact.
There is intrigue and genuine invention in the way the band comes in on "John's Fragment," and over the course of its nine minutes the music reveals beguiling, off-centre buoyancy. Robin Verheyen's tenor sax solo is knotted yet somehow fluent, at times almost static even while the rhythmic underpinning exhibits a sense of urgency.
By contrast, however, the free-play of "Theresa's Dress" lacks the inner coherence that makes such music so compelling. In striving for a variety of collective effects, the result is a band ill at ease with itself and seemingly the very open context in which it's working. Consequently, the music drifts rather aimlessly.
The lengthy "Saturn" is a worthwhile exercise in atmospherics, with a sly, insidious melody, but its sheer length has the effect of dissipating these qualities. Guitarist Michel Delville is a little buried in the mix for the duration of his lengthy solo, during which he constructs something with the precision of an architectalbeit one of tension-and-release as opposed to anything physical. Trumpeter Jean-Paul Estivienart is a model of restraint without evoking the spirit of Miles Davis, which in a setting like this, is an achievement in itself.
The late Elton Dean's "Seven For Lee" has been recorded before, notably by Soft Head, of which Dean was a member, on Rogue Element (Ogun, 1978). That interpretation had about it a poise that this one lacks. The piece can be something more than a vehicle for blowing, although here it's merely that.
And for all of Verheyen's eloquence on soprano sax, the impression remains it's a missed opportunity.
Track Listing: Psychic Warrior; John's Fragment; Saturn; Theresa's Dress; Pumpkin Soup; Seven for Lee.
Personnel: Alex Maguire: acoustic piano, synth; Michel Delville: synth guitar; Jean-Paul Estievenart: trumpet, flugelhorn; Robin Verheyen: soprano and tenor saxophone; Damien Polard: bass guitar; Laurent Delchambre: drums.