Probably best known for his work as part of the much celebrated trio Phronesis
, UK pianist Ivo Neame
has quietly built an enviable discography encompassing sideman appearances with Ant Law
and Andre Canniere
along with excellent albums as leader such as 2012's Yatra
. The latter in particular was a remarkably ambitious octet session that mixed clarinet from the likes of Shabaka Hutchings
with the saxophones of Jason Yarde
and Tori Freestone
, plus the bass of Phronesis colleague Jasper Hoiby. Change is in the air for this Neame's third solo albumsuperficially reflected in the shift of label from Edition to Whirlwind but also in the pared down line up. While the core of Yatra
band has been retained in Freestone, Dave Hamblett
on drums and Jim Hart
on vibes, the material and logistics have this time dictated that the only musicians other than Neame himself are Tom Farmer
and Andrea Di Biase
who share bass duties.
Neame's sleevenotes hint at a troubled gestation for the project, principally around capturing the ensemble playing the often challenging material well together. The time invested has been well spent howeverwhile many pieces take their time to settle in the sub conscious, they benefit from taking time to allow them to be absorbed revealing more with successive listens. The absolute killer is the title track "Strata" with its wonderful analogue synth accent and decayed echo adding a warmth and dub depth to the soundscape. Neame's piano economically sets up the piece with the chiming riff, before setting up Freestone's evocative sax line the pianist returning to pick his way carefully around the bass pulse as the piece builds to the climax. Some reviews have pointed to a Weather Report influence herebut really if the idea of a jazz band improvising over a dub mix of Paul McCartney's "With a Little Luck" under a cloudless Caribbean sky appeals, as indeed it should, you'll be most of the way there.
Freestone also excels on the more traditional tenor ballad "Miss Piggy," the title belying the sensitivity of the playing and the quality of the band improvisation in support. If you enjoy this track, Freestone's own Trio album In the Chop House
from 2014 is worth hearing. In keeping with the title of the collection, there are always these different layers of creativity throughout. Take album opener "Personality Clash" starting with Neame and Freestone trading phrases over Hart's vibes it abruptly shifts into a more traditional, yet thrilling, piano led jazz feel just as it seems to have settled into a pattern. This is clearly intentional, Neame having spoken of how he sought on the album to get tunes ..."to take on a new identity ... Sometimes there are references back to the original melodic motifs, sometimes the direction is tangential... [to] give a holistic sense to the written material." "OCD Blues" too starts with more excellent interplay between Neame and Freestone before breaking down around the 6 minute mark, when Neame's piano line leads the band towards a well-judged, measured conclusion.
What is remarkable about the album is the way that the breadth of influences has been both accommodated and blended to feel natural rather than capricious stylistic shifts. A good example of this is the way that "Folk Song" starts with Neame's accordion before being lifted by Freestone's tenor that immediately pushes the piece back into more of a jazz context. Even compositions like "Snowfall" that initially start, as you might expect, with a descending piano line from Neame develop into an interesting, languid, piece with some great ensemble playing and improvisation culminating in a great solo from Neame. This is not something that just happens and suggests a lot of care and attention has been lavished on the compositions for our benefit. Strata
then has a sense of the potential of Yatra
being fulfilled in terms of composition and arrangement. The time spent honing the tunes has clearly been worthwhile and has produced a collection that all concerned will be proud of. Add to this top notch performances by Freestone and Neame himself and there is much to be enjoyed and celebrated herehighly recommended.
Personality Clash; Strata; OCD Blues; Miss Piggy; Crise de Nerfs;
Eastern Chant; Folk Song; Snowfall.
Ivo Neame: piano, accordion, synths; Tori Freestone: tenor sax, flute;
Jim Hart: vibes; Tom Farmer: bass; Andrea Di Biase: bass; Dave