CD review: Aquarium

(Babel BDV1195)

Sam Leak

The pianist and Royal Academy of Music graduate, Sam Leak, is the latest bright young player and composer to be given his first chance in the studio by this great indy label run by Oliver Weindling. An earlier Weindling discovery, pianist Richard Fairhurst, does the production honours here, and while Leak might be a new name to many, his band mates won’t be.

James Allsopp, from Fraud and The Golden Age Of Steam, is on tenor and and bass clarinet, Calum Gourlay, from the Kit Downes Trio, is on bass, and Joshua Blackmore, from Curios and Troyka, is on drums.

The album opens in minimalist fashion with Strangers, Leak holding a right-hand piano pulse, Gourlay  and Allsopp adding the melody, and Blackmore setting up a groove, which then subtle metamorphoses, just as Steve Reich’s beats do. There are busy beats, too, in Grasshopper, with Allsopp more lyrical on tenor here and elsewhere on the album than we often get a chance to hear him.

There is a nice sense of through-composed pieces here – no simple heads and improvs – which allows Leak to develop and explore his own compositional style and also a range of mainly harmonious moods. These range from gentle and swinging through to freer stuff like Evensong, though here Leak holds the fulcrum with an almost hymn-like set of chords while the other three swirl wildly around him. For Shades of Grey, Leak takes the lead with a pretty tune against bass and hand drums. There’s a lovely use of space here.

There’s a feeling to some of the writing and the atmospheres created that is both young and fresh, yet also acknowledges that strain of pastoral, relatively blues-free, very English  jazz that stretches back through Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles and John Taylor to Michael Garrick.

Because of that, Aquarium is likely to attract a wide audience from those who might also have Kairos 4tet and Sam Crockatt on their current gig and CD radar.

Aquarium are currently on an intermittent tour, at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham, this evening, then on to Dempseys in Cardiff, next week, the Sela Bar in Leeds the week after, and the Canary Wharf and Brecon festivals in August. See the Cobweb Pick Of The Week for more details of tonight here.

Categories: CD review

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