Articulate and thoughtfully detailed, this is a smart application of core jazz values.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010-04-28
Sometimes contemporary jazz albums are not bigged up for what they are but marked down for what they are not: namely a wheel-reinventing artistic statement. We tend to forget that not every listenable Duke or Miles album pushed the proverbial creative envelope, and that consolidation of established methodologies and vocabularies is a necessary thing in any genre.
This work by British pianist Stapleton is a case in point. Quietly rather than conspicuously adventurous, it has a solidly classicist leaning that will appeal to all those who kneel at the altar of Herbie, Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter circa 1961, a period during which the chordal escarpment of bebop was plateauing into a less frenzied, urbane modernism that was often less note heavy and did not take its foot off the earthiness of the blues.
Stapleton has a well-drilled quintet: drummer Elliot Bennett and double bassist Paula Gardiner are high precision without being overly flashy, and trumpeter Jonny Bruce makes no less of an impact for his pert, neat phrases. But the pick of the bunch is multi-reed player Ben Waghorn, an unheralded player who’s had my vote since his first hustlings with Tommy Chase two decades ago. He’s on superlative form. His tonal beauty, particularly on tenor, light and shade and pacing of his improvisations are really good, no more so than on the title-track, a languorous ballad that has the same kind of yearning quality as Shorter’s Infant Eyes. The quintet displays considerable lightness of touch on this lean yet noble piece, as Stapleton’s piano raises the dramatic stakes by way of a tremulous minor chord sequence while the perfectly weighted, in-unison horn line edges slowly but decisively to a potent climax.
Elsewhere the group gets a mildly gospel, soul jazz groove on and the use of a fender Rhodes also injects another more pointed, steely resonance into the mix, something that works effectively against the felt-like quality of Gardiner’s bass. Articulate, sensitive and thoughtfully detailed, this is a smart application of core jazz values.