John Martin Quartet: Dawning (2011)
The debut album from London saxophonist John Martin comes with some heavyweight commendations. Flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler, whose music inspired one tune and whose influence courses through the disc, calls it "a lovely album," and saxophonist Iain Ballamy says it is "an honest, cohesive and sophisticated release." Dawning introduces an engaging young saxophonist, in whose music echoes of Africa can be heard alongside those of Wheeler and a more general ECM-like ambience.
Martin has long experience of playing in Afro lineupsamong other projects, he was once a member of Zongoand it can be heard in his tone, which is throaty and warm and often on the cusp of broken notes. It can be heard, too, in his compositions; all the tunes on the album are Martin originals, most with sunny melodies. Pianist Jonjo Grisdale's funky, bluesy romanticism fits Martin's drift to a tee. Both players are graduates of Middlesex University's jazz faculty, but they play with a soulfulness which seems to have been surgically removed from many young Jazz Studies alumni.
The vibe is relaxed, the pace measured and the weather mellow with stormy flurries. Martin and Grisdale solo on most tracks; bassist Tim Fairhall less often, though with memorable melodicism. Drummer Andy Ballantyne gets only one real outing, on "Swagger," which he takes over a powerful piano ostinato.
In a strong set, "Swagger" is probably the best track, though it is, atypically, "hot," and, at 05:22, also the shortest. A hard driving blues in 11/4, built out of three interlocking rhythmic parts, it has stirring solos from Martin (on tenor) and Grisdale, as well as Ball, and lives up to its title in a cheery, outgoing way. Other standouts include "Looking Up," inspired by Martin's time with Zongo, which has a wild Grisdale solo, and "All Good Things," inspired by Wheeler, with Fairhall vibrant and architectural.
A band to look out for in 2011.
Track Listing: I Wish; Looking Up; Moving On; Dawning; Quiet Song; Swagger; All Good Things; It Is How It Is.
Personnel: John Martin: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Jonjo Grisdale: piano; Tim Fairhall: double-bass; Andy Ball: drums.
Record Label: F-IRE Records