Drummers at the helm – two new CD releases

centreline theoryJim Bashford’s Construction – Centreline Theory (Leo Records): Jim Bashford graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course six or seven years ago. He came relatively late into jazz having being heavily involved in the construction industry and playing part-time in various rock and “alternative” bands in his free time.

In 2010 not long after graduation Jim set up a short tour with help from the then Birmingham Jazz, inviting three of his favourite musicians to play with him on the tour: guitarist Hilmar Jensson, saxophonist Robin Fincker and bass player Johnny Brierley. Jim wrote some original material for the quartet and by the end of the tour the group had gelled and were playing some exciting stuff.

So it’s great that Jim was able to bring Hilmar and Robin back for this recording and to add, in place of Johnny Brierley, electric bassist Tim Harries, a player that Jim has worked with on occasions over the years. He has called the quartet Construction, a nod to his former life. All the tunes are written by Jim apart from The Octave Doctors And The Crystal Machine by Tim Blake of Gong and Hawkwind.

Attack And Defense Pyramids settles down into a groove that brings out the attractive and uncomplicated nature of Jim’s writing; it also features good solos from Robin Fincker and Hilmar Jensson.

Given that this is a group that had not toured for four years when the album was recorded in 2014, I was expecting that this would be the pattern for the album; good straightforward writing and interesting solos from the front line players. But I was delighted to find that the album is much more varied than that, and has an excellent range of material and moods. Syeung Don Teen features Hilmar in a much more ambient electronic mood ably backed from some strong drumming from Jim.  Then Abandon has more of a minimalist feel with an interesting repetitive line from Tim Harries on the electric bass. In fact, Tim’s grooves on bass are a key to the variety and success of the album.

Later tracks move between the more upbeat jazz tunes and those with an ambient feel, and throughout there are strong attention-holding solos from Hilmar on guitar and Robin on clarinet as well as tenor sax. Jim’s drumming is excellent throughout, interacting with the electronics or combining effectively with Tim’s grooves. He still has the skills of a good rock player, but has added the “surprises” of a contemporary jazz drummer. My only criticism of the playing is that the collective improvisation on a two or three tracks seems to lack impetus, probably as a result of their not having played together on a regular basis.

Let’s hope that Jim is able to bring this quartet back to tour further in UK.

while we still canJohnny Hunter Quartet – While We Still Can (Efpi): There are certain similarities between this album and the Construction album reviewed above, the main one being that it features a quartet led by a drummer who has written all the material. It is the second album of the quartet led by Johnny Hunter, a key figure on the Manchester creative jazz scene and which features three members of Manchester’s Beats & Pieces Big Band, trumpeter Graham South, tenor saxophonist Ben Watte and bass player Stewart Wilson.

The album also begins with an attractive tune that leads into a sequence of trumpet, sax and bass solos that work well. But thereafter the album differs from that of Construction in that it mostly follows a head plus solos formula and the material, give or take some tempo changes, follows a similar pattern.

The soloing is excellent and the challenge of playing without a harmony instrument is confronted very successfully. But I think I would welcome some greater variety. That comes to a certain extent in the penultimate track, Sum Dim, that features a very attractive trumpet/bass duet followed by an equally successful sax/drums duet, and the short final track, Reprise, which features a distant trumpet playing over a kind of drone from the rest of the band.



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