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"Stonephace" Stabbins: Transcendental

Bruce Lindsay By

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On his thirteenth birthday Larry "Stonephace" Stabbins, already a promising saxophonist, bought John Coltrane's Africa/Brass (Impulse!, 1961). The impact was immediate and long-lasting, as Stabbins writes in the liner notes to Transcendental. By the early'70s he was an established player on the UK jazz scene. Forty years on, the sound of Africa/Brass still influences Stabbins and while he makes no attempt to mimic Coltrane's sound, there is something of Coltrane's spirituality underpinning much of the music on this excellent recording.

Back in the '80s, British jazz had one of its intermittent flirtations with pop chart success. Much of it, with the benefit of hindsight, was as much about the cut of a trumpeter's trouser as it was about the cutting-edge nature of the music. Some of it was eminently justifiable, as the best of these musicians brought varied influences together to create music that was technically skilful and genuinely engaging in a physical, emotional and intellectual sense. Working Week was one of the bands that justified the crossover success. Stabbins, guitarist Simon Booth and singer Juliet Roberts were the band's core, but they also drew on key players from the UK scene—trumpeters Harry Beckett and Guy Barker, and trombonist Annie Whitehead all made guest appearances on the band's debut, Working Nights (Virgin, 1985).

Stabbins' career also encompasses work with pianists Keith Tippett and Mike Westbrook, drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo and keyboardist Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra, among others. However, it's the Working Week vibe that most obviously pervades Transcendental. The first few bars of Coltrane's "Africa" establish the sheer power and energy of Stabbins' own playing: once the rest of the band kicks off a tight, irresistible, Latin groove it's obvious that this is one exciting ensemble.

It's a cracking band, all veterans of the Spatial AKA Orchestra. Pianist Zoe Rahman proves, once again, that she's a rare talent, delivering perfectly executed solos and rhythmic chordal play with equal precision. Karl Rasheed-Abel is the band's anchor, safe and secure at the music's root and building some fascinating bass patterns. Crispin "Spry" Robinson and Pat Illingworth form a mighty percussion duo—their interplay on "Transcendental Euphoria" is a total joy.

"Africa" and "Transcendental Euphoria" demonstrate the band's power and swing. Its more reflective and gentle side is evidenced by "Immanence," a beautiful slow duet between Stabbins' flute and Rahman's piano, the fluid "Yellow Brick Road" (with Stabbins, once again, on flute and Robinson and Illingworth showing how they can lay back but still establish a groove) and the languid, late-night mood of "White Queen Psycholog,y" which features Stabbins' tenor at its warmest and most romantic. Uplifting, beautiful, funky and romantic by turns, Transcendental's music strikes at the heart, soul and dancing shoes.

Track Listing: Africa; Noetic; Immanence; Yellow Brick Road; Transcendental Euphoria; Anomalous Monism; White Queen Psychology; Soul Train.

Personnel: Larry Stabbins: saxophones, flute; Zoe Rahman: piano; Karl Rasheed Abel: bass; Crispin “Spry” Robinson; Pat Illingworth: drums.

Title: Transcendental | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Noetic Records

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