The idea here is a simple one. Pick a selection of tunesfive standards, two originalsand revisit them, in the style of the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Quartet. That group was a brief affair, making just two records togetherGerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet and Two of a Mind. Cleverly, Biscoe and Neale have only picked two tunes covered by Mulligan and Desmond -"Easy Living" and "The Way You Look Tonight," both from Two of a Mind. This, in effect, allows them a greater freedom to interpret the material and leave a more personal stamp on it.
There is a light, airy feel to these seven tracks. Backed by the gently shifting, swinging rhythms of Stu Butterfield and Jeremy Brown, Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale are free to solo, play unison lines or trade phrases in a way that is quietly emotionally affecting. Counterpoint, as with both the Mulligan/Desmond and Mulligan/Baker groups provides the crucial dynamic here. I always felt that there was a fugue-like, Bachian quality to those piano-less Mulligan groups and that is evident here, as well. It helps, of course, that Neale has that Desmond sound down to a tee but then Biscoe makes that mighty baritone dance like Fred Astaire.
The presence of Colin Oxley on guitar also recalls the fine records Desmond made with guitarist Jim Hall. Yet, where a piano might have got in the way, Oxley's guitar allows the horns plenty of space. "Easy Living" does exactly what it says on the label, a gentle fox-trot of a thing, while the saxophone duet opening on "How Deep is the Ocean" leads into to some beautiful contrapuntal playing from the pair. It's a also fine and fresh arrangement from Neale of that old warhorse of a thing.
"Lover" gives space to Jeremy Brown's springing, skipping bass solo and to Stu Butterfield's drumsthe obligatory trading of fours. However, the rhythm section's main contribution is to keep the pulse flowing subtlyno easy task but one fulfilled elegantly here. The Latin rhythms of "Indian Summer" are quite lovely. It's a rhumba and echoes the fact that you could actually dance to most of the tracks here. Like "The Way You Look Tonight," an Astaire favourite, though the shifting paceandante to allegrowould certainly tax my quick-stepping skills.
Chris Biscoe's own two contributionsthe title track and "Rest Easy"are perhaps the most interesting here, with their extended themes and variations. However, one of the best aspects of "Then and Now" is the way that Biscoe and Neale eschew the usual head-solo-head-solo approach of much jazz with standards. In the spirit of the original Mulligan-Desmond model, they really spin out the themes, exploring their melodic potential to the full. A very nice album all round and one that leaves you with a warm glow inside.
Then and Now (Biscoe); Easy Living (Rainger/Robin); Rest Easy (Biscoe); How Deep is the Ocean (Berlin arr. Neale); Lover (Rodgers/Hart); Indian Summer (Herbert); The Way You Look Tonight (Kern/Fields).
Chris Biscoe baritone sax; Allison Neale alto sax; Jeremy Brown bass; Stu Butterfield drums; Colin Oxley guitar – tracks 1, 2, 6, 7.