The art of conversation is surely dying. Too many people prepared to shout out the first thought that comes into their empty head, or repeat some banal corporate half-truth intended to drown out dissenting views. Self-importance, simple bad manners and selfishness rule the world with little space to reflect on or listen to what others have to say. In jazz though things can be differenttake Anglo-German collaboration Paragon for example -they describe their music as ..."the sound of four people listening to each other."
Cerca is their third album, coming a full four years after 2010's Quarterlife Crisis, but their first on Jellymouldone of a quintet of leading UK jazz independents with Babel, Whirlwind, Gondwana and Edition. Compositions are split 6:4 between saxophonist Peter Ehwald and Arthur Lea on Fender Rhodes but such is the unity of the collective band sound, giving space and respect to each other's contributions that no individual or instrumental choice overpowers the conversation.
If this sounds well-mannered and structured then you'd be right but it shouldn't be read as a criticism. The musicians make their points concisely but listen carefully and well to ensure that the interactions are fully developed. So opener "Cerca de Ti" has a lively understated funkiness from Lea's Rhodes pulse and some excellent drum accents, from Kairos 4Tet and Andre Canniere alumnus Jon Scott, before Ehwald's sax winds its way through the acoustic space, the tempo picking up and dropping in response to the path he takes. It's one of those records where the more you listen the more is revealed -it works at a superficial level but also repays concentration on what the individual players are doing.
The quality of the band is clearfor example Scott and Matthias Nowak on bass do a fine job in setting the scene for "Glory"'s optimistic understatement, laying down an atmospheric bed for the solos to come while Scott too lays down some extraordinary drum work on Lea's ballad "Fat Pig." We can only hope that the title of this surprisingly tender piece did not result in the hospitalization of composer Lea at the hands of his beloved. Ehwald's sax is excellent throughout, fluid and breathy -never ostentatious but always delivering. On my personal favourite track "Blue Eyes White Dragon" he tops off the insistent bass from Nowak and spacey, funky Rhodes from Lea with an effective short theme or riff that expands into a controlled solo that fits the piece perfectly. It is perhaps this track where the fluidity of the band and the ability to swap musical ideas and thoughts is best realized. Lea's solo has the funk of 70s Herbie Hancock with a touch of Chic Corea in the overall sound too.
Hazlitt once wrote that "the art of conversation was the art of hearing as well as of being heard" and Paragon have obliquely shown the truth of this in a jazz context. This distinguished collection works so well primarily because of the thought, restraint and attentiveness of its contributors -rather than blast out a dozen pre- prepared measures over and through their bandmates, they support and gently prompt pushing each other further.
Listening and musical conversation such as this may not be able to resolve the wider societal ills, but they do provide a space to think and reflect that is particularly welcome. Warmly recommended.
Cerca De Ti; East To West; Delhi Belly; Bohdan; Glory; Blue Eyes White Dragon; Fat Pig; North
To South; Linguine; Ballade.
Peter Ehwald: saxophones; Arthur Lea: Fender Rhodes; Matthias Nowak: double bass; Jon
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