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The musicians who combine to make The Golden Age Of Steam are part of an energetic and vibrant community of young British jazz players who work together in a seemingly endless series of collaborations and collectives. All three are already BBC Jazz Award winnersreed player James Allsopp and drummer Tim Giles winning the 2008 award for Innovation for their band Fraud and keyboard player Kit Downes gaining the 2008 Rising Star award. Raspberry Tongue is the debut album for the band and features original compositions, as well as original cover art, by Allsopp.
This is a confident performance by the trio. Allsopp is the band's driving force and namechecks John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, among others, as influences. He writes in ways that enable, in his own words, "new structural spaces for improvisation," and all three players are ready and willing to take those spaces and make the maximum use of them. This does not always mean that the spaces get filled to the brimthe band members are too aware to fall into that trap. Indeed, the brief but lovely duet "Solomon Daisy" is so effective precisely because of the space which Allsopp and Downes leave around each other. Elsewhere the band's inventiveness can fall somewhat short, however, and tunes such as "Mr Apricot / Imaginary Handbag" and "For No Raisin" never quite take off.
Everything comes together on "Raspberry Tongue," the album's centerpiece. It is one of the most immediately accessible compositions here, but still reveals new layers on repeated listening. Allsopp's tenor playing drives things along for the bulk of the track, but Downes' own contributions are vital, especially in the mid-section when he and Allsopp trade phrases. The tune's closing section is dominated by Giles' drums, which suddenly explode in a high energy and powerful solo before Allsopp and Downes return to ease the tune into a slow and gentle close. In fact, across the album as a whole it's Giles who impresses mosthe's always empathic, never overwhelming and plays with obvious enthusiasm.
The final listed tune, "Oboe or Glockenspiel," falls victim to a seemingly growing trendthe Hidden Track. It's followed by 5 minutes of silence before a new and uncredited tune emerges to close the album. The concept of the Hidden Track may have been amusing and original once, but now it's annoying and almost hackneyed. The Golden Age Of Steam should be savvy enough to realise thisRaspberry Tongue deserves a bigger finish.
Track Listing: Mr Apricot / Imaginary Handbag; Fox Fingers; For No Raisin; Raspberry Tongue; Monocle; 300 Golden Bees / Monkeyphonics; Solomon Daisy; Eyepatch; Oboe or Glockenspiel.
Personnel: James Allsopp: tenor sax, bass clarinet; Kit Downes: Hammond Organ, Wurlitzer; Tim Giles: drums, percussion.