Taking a busman's holiday from his work with the award-winning Phronesis and the Kairos 4Tet, Strata is Ivo Neame's fourth innovative album released under his own name. Strident piano chords introduce "Personality Clash" where, following the opening ensemble theme and a piano solo combining both angularity and warmth,Jim Hart gives a masterclass in frenetic vibraphone soloing.
Opening with two repeated piano notes, oscillating between C and F, synth-laden effects embellish the quietly fluid title track, underpinned by a pulsating bass line, over which the tenor sax establishes an arpeggio-like melody, giving way to warm piano chords and finally a reintroduction of the melody. The sparing, subtle use of synthesiser here serves to augment the tonal colour rather than distract from the overall sound. "OCD Blues" is a quieter, slow track, developing through piano-led chord progressions with accordion and tenor sax leading the main theme, punctuated by ensemble interjections. The introduction of Hart's limpid vibes to the proceedings has an enlivening effect and complements the piano perfectly before the piece transcends into a more languid passage.
"Miss Piggy" is a showcase for Tori Freestone, her mellifluously serpentine tenor saxophone lines played over the accompanying vibes, piano, bass and drums. By contrast "Crise de Nerfs" is a lively number dominated by Jim Hart's rapid-fire vibraphone solo and rounded off by Freestone on flute as the track concludes to an accelerando finale.
"Eastern Chant," a trio piece, is, unsurprisingly, dominated by Neame's piano which describes a circular trance-like pattern, keenly abetted by sonorous bass and deft drums. With elegant and occasionally classical flourishes, there is less Eastern influence perceptible here, but this is a side issue for this fascinatingly absorbing track amply demonstrating Neame's skilful command of both harmony and rhythm. Ironically, "Folk Song" contains much more of an Eastern influence, particularly invoked by the addition of accordion. Tori Freestone is given space to solo extensively on tenor, before the number fizzles to a close. Spiralling tenor saxophone introduces the final number "Snowfall" which is as convoluted as this session gets, but paradoxically pays the most dividends, revealing new strands on repeated plays.
Ivo Neame's complex compositions and gorgeous arrangements married with his searching yet unequivocal soloing results in an album of exceptional depth and originality, indubitably enhanced by his choice of such a talented coterie of collaborating musicians.
Personality Clash; Strata; OCD Blues; Miss Piggy; Crise de Nerfs; Eastern Chant; Folk Song; Snowfall
Ivo Neame: piano, accordion, synthesizer; Jim Hart: vibraphone; Tori Freestone: tenor saxophone, flute; Tom Farmer: double bass; Andrea Di Biase: double bass; Dave Hamblett: drums