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Jim Rattigan: When

Chris May BY

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Jim Rattigan: When
Composer-arrangers as diverse as Gil Evans and Charles Mingus have employed the French horn, but it remains something of a niche instrument in jazz. Why? The same question applies to the almost complete absence of trombones in West African jazz and Afrobeat, and their ubiquity in Brazilian samba. The first convincing explanation in the Comments box below will win a night out with Sidney Powell or Rudy Giuliani. The second such explanation will win two nights. Anyway, Britain's Jim Rattigan is among a handful of players who champion the French horn as a solo instrument and he makes a convincing fist of it on When.

Rattigan trained as a classical hornist and spent six years as a member of London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra before switching to jazz full-time in the mid 1990s. Since then he has worked in bands led by luminaries including Django Bates, Carla Bley, McCoy Tyner, Hans Koller and Julian Arguelles. Rattigan released his first own-name album, Unfamiliar Guise (Black Box), in 2000, and in 2011 formed Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon, a twelve-piece ensemble with which he has released two albums.

On When, Rattigan fronts an octet made up of two quartets, one jazz, one classical. The album is, he says, not a crossover project but a juxtaposition in which the two traditions work side by side. The jazz lineup is completed by acoustic pianist Nikki Iles, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer James Maddren. The classical lineup is a string quartet led by the violinist Julian Tear, alongside whom in his previous life Rattigan frequently played in the Academy of St. Martin's in the Fields chamber orchestra.

Lyrical and mellifluous—it surely cannot be simple coincidence that the French horn's sonically identical twin is called a mellophone—When is a collection of ten Rattigan originals. Their ambience ranges between melancholic and bitter sweet, and both toplines and arrangements touch on the nostalgic, at their best suggesting a previously unheard item from the Great American Songbook. It is here that Rattigan's distinction between crossover and juxtaposition becomes rather blurred. But no matter. So strong are many of the melodies that they almost beg for someone to add words and have the shade of Billie Holiday sing them. Nikki Iles' keyboard voicings are additional pleasures, often suggesting Bill Evans.

This is not an album that is going to frighten any horses. But if you are in a reflective mood and enjoy elegant jazz with well-scored, let us say, juxtover string charts, this one hits the spot.

Track Listing

Now And Then; River of Dreams; Patricks Song; Fool; Saudade; It's Not Quite The Same; When; The Commute; Solace; Wistful Thinking.

Personnel

Jim Rattigan: french horn; Nikki Iles: piano; James Maddren: drums; Julian Tear: violin; Alison Gordon: violin; Nicholas Barr: viola; Nicholas Cooper: cello.

Album information

Title: When | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Three Worlds

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