Creativity is an unpredictable beast, yesterday's inspiration can soon turn stale, evaporating with the morning dew if not carefully cultivated and attended to. That idea that was once so exciting can easily become a well-worn rut, or even a trap, into which the unwary can fall. Bassist Jasper Hoiby
, a third of Phronesis
, appears to recognise the benefits of staying creatively fresh on this fantastic new record, explicitly taking the time to try something different, and, possibly, recharging the creative batteries in the process. Fellow Creatures
is in Hoiby's words intended to ..." explore things that I wouldn't be able to with Phronesis... an attempt to break away and try new ground...."
Principally this exploration comes through the greater possibilities offered by the relatively large five piece ensemblethat allows Hoiby the option of writing for two melody instruments with the greater interplay that implies. The band are excellent mixing leading lights of the Brit-Jazz scene like Mark Lockheart
(saxophones) and Laura Jurd
(trumpet & flugelhorn) with emerging talents such as Will Barry
(piano) and Corrie Dick
(drums). While this makes the music more diffuse than Phronesis, it gains significantly in terms of the subtlety, rhythmic and melodic invention of much of the collection. The title track, for example, strikes an angular latin groove that Jurd and Lockheart peel off from, playing round both each other's contributions and the rhythm with some dexterity and skill. At the halfway point the ensemble shifts beneath the solos, transporting the piece back to something approaching a more familiar modern jazz context. It's a wonderful track but far from the only delight to be found here.
That desire to tread new ground also includes an intention to produce a coherent feel, Hoiby commenting that the collection is ..."a celebration of the album as a narrative, as well as the personalities expressing it...." A central pillar of that narrative comes from the book "This Changes Everything" by Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein -who has spent much of the last 15-20 years highlighting the unspoken assumptions, inconsistencies and compromises inherent in our globalised system with a clarity that few others have matched. Unusual subject matter for jazz musicians to take on for sure, but couched in terms of a positive affirmation of what we share rather than what divides usHoiby has described the music as ..." an encouragement to the love between human beings and an acknowledgement of our belonging to nature, that I believe we all share as fellow creatures."
Pieces such as "Song for the Bees" successfully walk the line between melodic accessibility, textural and rhythmic invention. Hoiby's bass work here is particularly fine propelling the piece forward while allowing some great solo work from Jurd and Lockheart to play off of him to great effect. Pianist Will Barry contributes a thoughtful, precise, solo to "Tangible" and the horns anchoring the piece with the main theme around him. It's an interesting structure because it gives an impression of movement that keeps the ear fresh -Mingus pulled off a similar trick on Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
, although possibly in a more raucous way. Here, though, there is a lightness about the way that the musicians fit together on tracks like "Collective Spaces" or "Suddenly Everyone" that shows a band comfortable playing with each other, enjoying working through the compositional creative challenges and scenarios Hoiby sets them. Heaven only knows what prompted the studio chat at the beginning of the excellent album closer "Plastic Island" -but what follows is a highlight of an extremely strong collection of compositions.
This being an Edition records release, there is an attention to detail in the presentation of the music both sonically and in the excellent cover photo of Hoiby by label boss, and no mean jazz musician himself, Dave Stapleton
. The cover emphasises the intensity -Hoiby looking out at the world perplexed and isolated on a jetty, but also has a certain visual ambiguity. Should we read anything, for example, into the set of boarding steps isolated and leading nowhere on the left hand side of the shot? Is it a symbol for an environmental catastrophe, or has Hoiby just missed the water taxi home?
Ultimately what matters is that this is a fantastic, appealing, record that is head and shoulders above much released of late. The quintet setting has clearly inspired Hoiby both in terms of composition and playing and there can be little doubt that he and his band are a class act. This is one of the year's finest recordings and as such is highly recommended.