Even within the relatively short time span of his burgeoning career, vibraphonist and composer Jonny Mansfield has amassed an impressive array of music prizes. These include the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize from the Royal Academy of Music which made this recording possible. But far from resting on his laurels, Mansfield has been busy gigging throughout Europe including Amsterdam's Bimhuis and London's Ronnie Scott's Club and the Royal Albert Hall. He's also gigged with notable musicians including Chris Potter, Gareth Lockrane and Mark Lockhart.
On Mansfield's impressive debut album, he's assembled a throng of like-minded young musicians comprising his "Elftet" (the name derives from the eleven musicians in the band). His influences are diverse and include Duke Ellington and Maria Schneider. "Sailing" kicks off the set, led by Ellen Hohnen-Ford's dulcet, folky vocals counterbalanced by the big band and Rory Ingham's resonant trombone solo. "M&M" is introduced by vibes and lugubrious cello, before the ensemble takes-up the tune, followed by guitar and violin in rapid-fire union. The first guest soloist to perform is Chris Potter on tenor sax who brings his customary dexterity and lyricism to the piece. Mansfield's agile vibes solo contrasts with more of Potter's rumbustious tenor and the mellifluous and often complex arrangements of the ensemble.
The dreamy lullaby "Falling," which incorporates the lyrics of the nursery rhyme "Cradle Song" by Thomas Dekker, features lissom vocals from Hohnen-Ford. The neo-baroque "T&C's" is embellished by an extended solo from guest flautist Gareth Lockrane. "Mr Boz" is dedicated to Elftet's drummer Boz Martin-Jones who provides a percussive foray on this short track. "Silhouette" was the first tune Mansfield wrote for the Elftet and features a sinewy guitar solo from Oliver Mason and searching vibes from Mansfield worthy of the late Bobby Hutcherson.
James Davison's warm flugel solo on the opening of "For You" is joined in unison by Hohnen-Ford, followed by the ensemble which takes up the romantic melody. "Flying Kites," dedicated to Mansfield's father, is appropriately light and airy, with deft violin from Dominic Ingham and entrancing light and shade arrangements including sumptuously delicate vocals from Hohnen-Ford. "Sweet Potato" is a bluesy closer, with gorgeous Ellingtonian ensemble passages and Hammond organ from guest soloist Kit Downes.
There's something of a Mike Gibbs feel to Mansfield's compositions (especially with vibes, a favourite instrument of Gibbs) with some Loose Tubes sensibility thrown in for good measure, but none of these allusions detract from the sheer originality his music exudes. A promise of magnificent things to follow.