Chris Bowden Slightly Askew Review

BBC Review

Brit saxophonist returns after six years with his second album of widescreen cosmic...

Colin Buttimer 2002

Six years...six long years since Time Capsule, an album of angular strings, methodical bass, Rhodes, longform and brief pieces. Saxophonist Bowden played great solos, but wasn't audible on every track;Time Capsule still comes on like a never-released recording date from an alternative 1973.

What happened between then and now? I heard occasional things, the wonderful 12" collaboration with 4 Hero, much too brief appearances on their Two Pages and Creating Patterns albums (which left me wanting much more). Since then he's been playing with the likes of Jessica Lauren and the Herbaliser.

And now Slightly Askew crashes in (almost literally!). The wind arrangement of "Only Angst" comes on like an angry squall when you didn't pack a mac, you're nowhere near any shelter and you're soaked in seconds flat. Then just to confuse you the rain stops as suddenly as it started, the sun comes out: Bowden's sax is inching and forming shapes as the drums walk him and you along.You're beginning to dry out and along comes another squall. You're buffeted by loads of things borne by that wind; organ, trumpet, saxes, piano.

Drums are nervous, metallic, edgy, there's no taking anything for granted; when things quiet down you have to prepare yourself for that cacophonous onslaught returning. Best not to stand near any steep drops when listening to this one. 14 minutes on from pressing the play button and I'm worn out.

What a way to come back! Why's he been away so long? "Crockers and Killers" eases up a little bit; there's still those metallic drums, strings weaving in and out, but the bass is more to the fore and married with piano and female voice; the impression is lyrical. "Zoo Zoo" is more funky, strident, with gloriously angular (or askew?) string and wind arrangements. The first two and a half minutes of "W'p De F' N' Doo" is a duet between Bowden's sax and Tom Gordon's drums until strings, bass and piano join and add a cushioning warmth.

My first impression of this album was that the sound seemed to be strangely not of this time. There's a hell of a lot happening on Slightly Askew's four tracks: many different episodes, musical details; it's not a blowing session, solos are part of a bigger picture and occur where the logic of the music dictates. This is jazz where the zz's of the word are the teeth of a saw; at times cutting smoothly, at times rasping through knots.

This is not polite dinner jazz, thank goodness. It's ambitious, thinking music not afraid of expressing feeling. Chris Bowden is one of the UK's great altoists and composers; Slightly Askew underlines this. Pleeeeeease don't take so long next time Mr Bowden.

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