The city of Leeds, in the northern county of West Yorkshire, has developed a reputation in recent years as one of the UK's hotbeds of contemporary jazz and improvised music. But Yorkshire jazz isn't just about being cutting edge or pushing envelopes: there's also a strong affinity with the music's history and traditions; an affinity that values The Great American Songbook, the craft of the ballad and the sheer joyous thrill of a mainstream big band in full flight. Turning Point, the debut album by the Chris Flaherty Big Band, is a joyous example of this acknowledgement of past glories and, in the original tunes of leader/multi-instrumentalist Flaherty, a fine showcase for new music in that tradition.
Flaherty lives in Halifax, an industrial town a few miles away from Leeds, where he runs the Halifax Guitar School. He is a solid, unfussy drummer and bassist but he excels on guitar. His clear, bright, tone ensures that his single note playing cuts through the ensemble's sound while his rhythm playing is always beautifully judged and sympathetic to the lead players' contributions. He's long held an ambition to front a big band and has grabbed his opportunity in fine style.
There is a little artistic license in Flaherty's use of the term "Big Band," as there are only six players on this albumAl MacSween and Aron Kyne share the piano duties, while Flaherty plays all of the guitar, bass and drum parts. Whatever the reason for the lack of players logistics, perhaps, economics almost certainlyit's to Flaherty's credit as composer, arranger, producer and engineer that the band sounds like a big band. From the laidback, seemingly effortless beauty of "Mosaic" and "Parallel Motion" to the up- tempo swing of "Let It Simmer" and the tough, driving, "Trane Spotting," Flaherty and his band mates craft some stylish music which, through judicious use of overdubbing, has a full, rich texture.
Trombonist Dennis Rollins, leader of the Velocity Trio, is probably the band's highest-profile member, but each player makes his own vital contribution. Greg Nichols and Rod Mason shine on the soulful funk of "Dance Of The Sardines," Mason and Rollins trade full-blooded solos on "McCloud 9." Flaherty is particularly impressive on "Let It Simmer"as a guitarist, bassist and drummerand the bebop "Trippin' Off Bird," which also features Kyne's punchy piano solo. The band's ensemble playing is equally strong: a special mention must go to the overall sound of the smooth, '60s big band style of "Song For Dawn."
Turning Point has clearly been a labor of love for Flaherty, so it's great to report that the labor was successful. This is a bouncy, bubbly big band sound, even if it does come from just half a dozen playersgreat on record, it deserves to be heard live.
Trane Spotting; Mosaic; Parallel Motion; Turning Point; Let It Simmer; Song For Dawn; Dance
Of The Sardines; Trippin' Off Bird; Rise Of The Fofanon; McCloud 9; New Perspective.
Chris Flaherty: guitar, bass, drums; Rod Mason: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute; Dennis Rollins: trombone; Greg Nichols: trumpet, flugelhorn; Al MacSween: piano (1, 2, 6, 7, 9-11); Aron Kyne: piano (3-5, 8).
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