Strings and Tim Garland
have always resonated well together. A leading figure of British jazz since the early 2000s, Garland emerged from a classical background, having studied classical composition at the Guildhall School of Music. His dual idioms have converged persuasively on albums such as If The Sea Replied
(Sirocco Music Limited, 2005), Libra
(Global Mix, 2009), Songs To The North Sky
(Edition Records, 2014) and Weather Walker
(Edition Records, 2018), with anything from chamber ensembles to full-blown orchestras shaping the saxophonist's adventurous concepts. Beyond category, these albums are touchstones of contemporary music where improvisation and extended composition meet. ReFocus
continues the trendbut with one significant difference.
If Garland's orchestral colors have often reflected the influence of Michael Tippett, Benjamin Britten and Henri Dutilleux as much as Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky or Béla Bartók, ReFocus
pays personal homage to Stan Getz
's album Focus
(Verve, 1962), which featured three violins, viola and cello, and secondary roles (in the main) for pianist Steve Kuhn
, bassist John Neves and drummer Roy Haynes
. Composer Eddie Sauter left the melodies free for Getz to improvise, and it is an approach that Garland adopts here, basing his solos, in part, on Getz's own themes. Whereas Getz bewitched with an aching lyricism reminiscent of Lester Young
, Garland's brand of romanticism is darker, more muscular and, not surprisingly, having absorbed another half century of music, more contemporary sounding.
Apart from the faithful rendition of Sauter's "I'm Late, I'm Late"with percussionist Adam Kovacs replicating Haynes' dynamic brushwork from that 1961 sessionGarland is more attuned to the spirit of adventure that Focus
represented in an era when jazz would splinter into Third Stream, free improvisation and avant-garde experimentalism a world of possibilities. Getz' embrace of strings on Focus
, however, had little to do with jazz ensemble play, with the jazz musicians no more than bit-part players. By contrast, drummer Asaf Sirkis
and bassist Yuri Goloubev
are cornerstones of Garland's rhythmic edifice, while guest musicians John Turville
on piano, and Ant Law
on acoustic guitar enjoy sparkling cameos on the unreservedly cheery "Jezeppi," where Garland also shines, on soprano saxophone.
The saxophonist's virtuosity aside, it is his ability to harness the strings to conjure an array of moods and textures that most impresses. From the reflective melancholy of "The Autumn Gate" and the brooding tensions and unfolding drama of "Dream State," to the rhythmic panache of the exhilarating "Night Flight," ReFocus
is an emotional journey more than anything. While the string ensemble's elegant legato phrasing, lively pizzicato and thrilling riffing score the big points, there is also devil in the detail, with harpist Lauren Scott's subtle interventionsher swirling cascades and sly pulses, the percussive splashes and moody arpeggioscoloring the arrangements significantly.
Instantly gratifying on multiple levels, ReFocus
strikes a fine balance between classical sophistication, earthy rhythmic drive and improvisational flourish. To the patient, however, the music unveils its most satisfying richesits nuances and layerswith the repeated listening that it merits.
I'm Late, I'm Late; Maternal; Thorn In The Evening; Dream State; Past Light; Night Flight; The Autumn Gate; Jezeppi.
Tim Garland: piano; Ant Law: acoustic guitar (8); John Turville: piano (8); Thomas Gould: violin; Ben Hancox: violin; Magdalena Filipczak: violin; Rakhi Singh: violin; Simran Singh: violin; Robin Ashwell: viola; Juan-Miguel Hernandez: viola; Cecilia Bignall: cello; Lauren Scott: harp; Adam Kovacs: percussion (1-2).