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Henry Heillig describes the music his band plays as contemporary jazz that honours tradition. Well, that’s as good a way of putting it as any. While the word contemporary is most often the quicksand of jazz, the band members have enough focus not to slip when they get into that terrain.
The testimony to tradition comes in the delightful, catchy “Ladybug Waltz,” a radiant hue infused on the piano by Craig Harley and then Jake Langley. Add a pliant rhythm section and, to use a term from once upon a long time ago, this one cooks! That heady transport permeates “Miles Ahead," the beat accentuated by drummer Howard Gaul. Langley’s notes bite, the hardier grain dipping into the blues and coming up with thick, juicy lines. Harley balances this with a lighter touch, the two approaches offering welcome dimensions. There’s a charming ballad in “Keep Walkin’,” Langley playing the acoustic guitar, notes that fall like gentle dew. Henry Heillig adds a ruminative solo on the bass; the brushwork of Gaul completes the impact.
The contemporary visage is seen in the progression of “Spring, Please.” The tempo changes from sedate to a bustle, accentuated by Langley—and in giving it that presence, they do not let it slip into mush. The arrangement of “Sam’s Guitar” is a key ingredient in its success. The dual tempo is first set up by Heillig playing the melody through a deliberately paced solo and then kicked into the high gear of the blues by Langley, before he extends the idea into rock. Heillig comes back and pulls in the beat, and then Harley becomes the predominant voice in the ensemble as his harmonic sense draws strongly on jazz. A most effective cycle indeed.
This group's attitude may be ambivalent, but Heillig Manoeuvre makes music that is worth latching on to.