Tony Wren/Larry Stabbins/Howard Riley/Mark Sanders: Four in the Afternoon (2002)
Although this is a new quartetthe album date was only their fourth meetingthere are ties between its members going back years, Wren and Larry Stabbins to the 70s, Howard Riley and Stabbins also to the 70s, Riley and Mark Sanders to the 80s. Such roots can be important in improvisation of this kind, and so it proves here. The music achieves that most dubious compliment for improvat times it sounds pre-arranged. That is an indication of how good the four musicians are individually and how well they react and respond to each other.
Individually, Riley and Stabbins particularly stand out. Throughout, Riley is in inspired form, his playing underpinning ensemble passages and his solos often being astounding rapid-fire flurries (no surprise to those of you familiar with Riley). Stabbins has a long jazz and improv pedigree, but may be the least known member of this quartet, despite his time with soul-pop band Working Week that brought his fifteen minutes of fame. Be that as it may, his playing here is varied and, yes, beautiful. His slow, controlled tenor sax at the beginning of "Blue Dark" is very atmospheric, and carefully structured. (It also makes me think of Ben Websternot a common experience with improv sax!)
Collectively, every play of this CD reveals new details to admire and enjoy. This will be music to return to time and again.
Track Listing: A Soft Day; Game of Two Halves; Where Are The Snows...; Rough Crossing; Blue Dark; Embarrassment of Witches; Transcension
Personnel: Larry Stabbins, soprano and tenor saxophones; Howard Riley, piano; Tony Wren, double bass; Mark Sanders, percussion.
Record Label: Emanem