Jazz may be a marginalized genre, but that condition seems at odds with the wealth of outstanding artists moving it forward. And when you consider regionalization, both stylistically and geographically, it can be almost insurmountable to keep track of jazz's ongoing evolution. Consequently, most artists find themselves working in insular surroundings, working with the same circle of players and performing in the same venues, even as they fight to expand their horizons.
Britain has maintained its own jazz community for decades, with only an exceptional few reaching beyond its boundaries to international audiences. That's a shame, as a remarkable number of British players deserves the kind of exposure to which American artists have easier access. Some, like woodwind multiinstrumentalist Tim Garland, seem constantly poised on the brink of greater fame through association with American artists (in Garland's case, with pianist Chick Corea). Others, like alto saxophonist Martin Speake, clearly have what it takes, but they never get the breaks in the larger global marketplace.
Woodwind multi-instrumentalist Mark Lockheart is another case in point. Part of the influential 1980s big band Loose Tubes, he's become an active part of the UK music scene in ensuing years. He belongs to two of Britain's premier contemporary jazz units: Polar Bear and Disassembler. He's also recorded with Radiohead, Prefab Sprout, and Jah Wobble, extending his reach in other styles.
Moving Airhis tenth albumfinds him with a quartet equally deserving of broader recognition. Guitarist John Parricelli is Britain's Vic Juris, a player who can handle virtually anything, despite having eluded the fame of players like Metheny, Scofield, and Frisell. Martin France is an equally flexible drummer who has had some international exposure with Django Bates and Tim Berne's Bloodcount. Rounding out the quartet, bassist Dudley Phillips is equally versed in traditional styles and contemporary concerns.
There are a number of significant parallels between Lockheart and American saxophonist David Binney. Like Binney, Lockheart favors long-form composition that's almost mathematical in its precision. He's also intrigued by a larger ensemble soundsomething he achieves on Moving Air through copious amounts of overdubbed woodwinds, piano, and Fender Rhodes. And like Binney, he has an instrumental dexterity that allows him to create lines of surprising depth and complexity, even as they retain a purer, highly personal melodicism.
The most remarkable thing about Moving Air is Lockheart's ability to make the multitracking process feel organic. On three of the album's nine tracks, he layers saxophones, clarinets, and keyboards, with only France accompanying, and yet everything sounds and feels vivid and alive. Elsewhere, odd meters and displaced rhythms abound, blended with themes that seamlessly shift between unison and counterpoint, creating richly detailed backdrops that paradoxically encourage, rather than impede, imaginative improvisation.
Were Lockheart living in New York, he'd likely be a part of the circle that includes Binney, saxophonist Chris Potter, guitarist Adam Rogers, and bassist Scott Colley. That's recommendation enough for jazz fans outside the UK to step beyond their own defined circles and check out a player as contemporary and significant as any of his American counterparts.