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This album was recorded in January 2009 in the church of St. James the Lesser, in the village of Midhopestones near Sheffield, South Yorkshirehence, its intriguingly uplifting title (incidentally, its track titles refer to other villages or features nearby). Maybe that recording location explains the sense of tranquility and beauty that pervades the music here. It seems as if all five players were on their best behavior as they were in church; everyone gets along well together; there is no rowdiness, no arguing, and no outbursts.
The sounds here are rarely predictable, straightforward or unambiguous. Having listened to this album countless times, it's been necessary to check the credits nearly every time, usually to clarify the origin of some non-attributable sound. So, although no bassist is listed, a persistent low frequency sound recurs throughout "Strines," giving it a strong pulse. By a process of elimination, it must originate from Louisa Martin's laptop.
It was also necessary to check that Phil Minton is actually credited, as his voice is rather elusive here, and surprisingly subdued. Those familiar with his usual improvising style, complete with trademark guttural interjections, will have to listen hard to detect him here. "Wharncliffe Side" features a dialogue between Doneda and Minton, during which saxophone and voice are each practically unidentifiable as they imitate each other, intertwine and mingle. Elsewhere, Minton camouflages himself perfectly, blending into the background; he contributes much but never steps into the spotlight.
And so it proves with all the players here; the musicians must have left their egos at the church door. They are focused more on creating multi-layered, evolving music than on leaving their own mark on it. The end results stand up remarkably well to repeated listening, delivering more and revealing fresh facets every time. What a gem.