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Tony Wren/Larry Stabbins/Howard Riley/Mark Sanders: Four in the Afternoon

John Eyles By

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This new quartet is a departure from Quatuor Accorde, the other quartet that Tony Wren currently convenes. Whereas that is an all-strings affair, this one has the line-up of a conventional jazz quartet—sax, piano, bass and drums. But both play completely improvised music. And it is only the line-up here that is conventional. For example, when this quartet played a recent concert in St Cyprian's Church, to promote this album, at one point Mark Sanders memorably strolled around playing on the pews and furniture—great showmanship and playing combined!

Although this is a new quartet—the album date was only their fourth meeting—there 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 improv—at 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 Webster—not 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.

Title: Four In The Afternoon | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Emanem

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