Ben Lee Quintet – In The Tree

ben-lee-in-the-tree-stoney-lane-records-slr1892(Stoney Lane Records)

The band line-up is refreshingly different  – guitar, alto saxophone, trombone, organ and drums, and the tunes are as well.

A couple – Folk Theme and Beginning Of The End – are adapted from the Devon-born, Exeter and Birmingham-educated guitarist’s bigger double-band project called States. The adaptation of arrangements for a larger ensemble, one that placed a band of strings and drums in conversation with one of horns and drums, the leader sitting in the middle and acting as referee some of the time, down to the quintet’s instrumentation retains the richness of the writing.

Lee has a marvellous and eclectic set of interests, from sci-fi to skate-boarding, obsessive behaviour to tree-climbing, and he brings them all in. He is also a man of many tunes, all of them whistle-able, and his fellow melodists – Chris Young on alto, Richard Foote on trombone, David Ferris on organ – embrace them whole-heartedly He also has catchy rhythms inherent in his guitar style and drummer Euan Palmer expands those marvellously.

There is an infectious light-heartedness which is epitomised by the title track but don’t be fooled – there is an underlying truth there in the whistled, then communal theme and its development. Many jazz players spend a lifetime working through all kinds of fancy complexities to arrive at the essential truths; Lee seems to have jumped the queue to get to here.

School and subsequent visits to help out at a Malawian school, together with a fondness for Wes Montgomery and Sonny Rollins, have led to the Afro-calypso Kickin’ The Chicken, while Scratching The Itch is a bit of a personal admission that when Ben hits on something he likes he does it to excess, whether that is riding his skateboard or eating chocolate. Thankfully playing the guitar is another obsession.

The African influence feels like it is there in the band’s ability to work as a communal unit with no particular stars, the tunes and solos moving generously from one player to another. The rock influences – Lee’s early loves were Blink 182 and Nirvana – bring life and directness and that jazz education means even the nerds have something interesting to listen to.

This album – and the live performance of the music in my home town before the disc was released – are ones that have been genuinely cheering. And good cheer is always needed, especially this year.

  • For a lengthy interview with Ben Lee, go HERE.
  • To buy the album directly from the Birmingham-based Stoney Lane Records, go HERE.


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  1. 2016 Festive Fifty – 20-11 – thejazzbreakfast

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