It's the facts. Many inquisitive people spend their lives in pursuit of the facts. For the questing jazz musician, by contrast, the contrafacts take precedence. That's certainly the case for the UK's Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet. The band's second collection of such tunes based on the chord changes from Songbook standards, The Real Note Vol. 2, features nine of them.
Bassist Geoff Gascoyne and saxophonist Dave O'Higgins co-lead the group, which is completed by pianist Graham Harvey and drummer Sebastian De Krom. It would be hard to find a more experienced or intuitive quartet on the UK jazz scene. Fast workers, too: the album was recorded in a single afternoon in February 2014.
It seems almost de rigeur to give contrafacts titles that at least hint at the original source. Many hours of fun might be had simply by perusing such titles and guessing at the source material. The Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet has a neat line in such titles, ranging from the pretty obvious (O'Higgins' "I Got Arrythmia" and "Shark Avenue") to the more subtle (Gascoyne's "Five Moods""I'm In The Mood For Love" in 5/4 timeand "Vision").
Contrafacts may sound like technical exercises for the up-and-coming jazz student, but in the hands of the Gascoyne O'Higgins Quartet they're fresh and rewarding takes on much loved old favorites. "Vision" (a waltz-time take on "You Stepped Out Of A Dream") is absolutely gorgeous: O'Higgins' lush tenor sax tone perfectly suits the warm romance of the melody, the three rhythm section players providing effortlessly cool support. "Embrace," Gascoyne's re-working of "Embraceable You," is languid and seductiveHarvey's lyrical solo is a standoutwhile the bassist's "Autopsy" rolls good-naturedly along at a similar pace to Count Basie's "Topsy," which gave it inspiration. "Shark Avenue" shares this good humor and mid-tempo swing, a nod to the friendly dolphin rather than the deadly shark.
The Real Note Vol. 2 also features two "non-contrafacts." "Broadway" gets a fast tempo treatment with solos from O'Higgins on tenor, Harvey and De Kromevery one swings, despite the super-quick pace. "Sophisticated Lady" matches the warmth and lush romanticism displayed on "Vision." O'Higgins' tenor once again takes the lead role, Harvey's solo is as sophisticated as the song demands. Solos or ensemble playing, contrafacts or classics, The Real Note Vol. 2 is a class act.
Track Listing: Darkness; Shark Avenue; Five Moods; Vision; I Got Arrythmia; Sophisticated Lady; RSVP; Embrace; Autopsy; Dedication; Broadway.
Personnel: Dave O'Higgins: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Graham Harvey: piano; Geoff Gascoyne: double bass; Sebastiaan De Krom: drums.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.