Tenorist from Trio AAB with an international band including Bad Plus bassman Reid...
Peter Marsh 2004-09-27
It's been a year of very fine releases from Scottish jazz label Caber, yet they just might have outdone themselves with this set from Trio AAB saxophonist Phil Bancroft. This is Phil's second set as leader and though it's a world away from the spiky folk/jazz collisions of his usual outfit, it might be the album that puts him in the first division of European tenor players...
Headlong is by turns impressionistic, restless, even furious, though its energy is never less than focussed throughout. Bancroft's compositions have the same floating, disembodied quality as Paul Motian's, and the band plays with the kind of airy, supple swing that you might find on Motian'soutput with Joe Lovano. Hints of ECM impressionism, Ornette- inspired scramble and free improv jostle with each other throughout. The result? A kaleidoscopic, freewheeling beauty of an album.
Though it's Bancroft's show, the other members of the quartet are given ample space and they don't waste it. Guitarist Mike Walker is a sweetly melodic presence much of the time, though his occasional use of distortion brings out a distinctly feral, rockist edge to his playing (check the bruising intensities of "Groove 421").
The saxophonist's lush tone and sense of space imbues the ballads (particularly the beautiful title track) with intelligence and grace, while at higher energy settings he unleashes short bursts of vocalised aggression that threaten to push the whole thing off the rails. Drummer Thomas Stronen (of Food) is a revelation;like a hybrid of Max Roach, Paul Motian and Tony Oxley, he often gives the impression that he's playing straight ahead swing while someone's emptying a large bag of marbles over his kit.On a less abstract tip, bassist Reid Anderson (of Bad Plus fame) is solid, funky and lyrical throughout.
Given their apparent empathy, it'd be nice to think this is the kind of band that could stay together, though given the geographical problems involved I suppose that's unlikely. One of my favourites of the year so far, and unreservedly recommended.