Larry ‘Stonephace’ Stabbins Transcendental Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Brit-jazz lynchpin musters a convincing, emotionally charged tone.

Daniel Spicer 2012

Saxophonist Larry "Stonephace" Stabbins isn’t exactly a household name – even among British jazz fans – but for four decades he’s been an influential figure on the UK scene. He’s best known for co-founding, in 1983, the Latin-soul outfit Working Week, which skirted mainstream pop crossover success; and is credited with helping to stir up the Brit-jazz revival of the 1980s.

Yet his roots lie in much deeper territory. As far back as 1971, he was part of pianist Keith Tippett’s 50-piece behemoth, Centipede, and he’s worked with other avant-garde luminaries including John Stevens, Eddie Prévost and Tony Oxley. This latest finds him pitched somewhere between the two extremes – nodding to serious jazz while keeping one foot tapping to an accessible beat.

As hinted in the album’s name, the guiding influence on Transcendental is the spiritual jazz birthed by John Coltrane and his acolytes in the 1960s – a music that Stabbins has been intimate with since buying Trane’s Africa Brass on his 13th birthday. Indeed, a lot of the tunes here are powerfully authentic recapitulations of Coltrane’s deeply felt message of spiritual awakening.

Stabbins’ original composition Noetic is a smouldering mid-tempo modal waltz that wouldn’t sound out of place on Coltrane’s eponymous 1962 classic; and Anomalous Monism is deep-jazz with bells, shakers and oceanic piano chords straight out of an early 70s McCoy Tyner session.

Guest pianist Zoe Rahman is a voluminous presence across the whole album, with robust solo statements generating powerful ripples and a serious-as-your-life gravity. Stabbins, too, is capable of mustering a convincing, emotionally charged tone – so it’s a shame he insists on puncturing his own bubble with some ill-advised trips back to the dancefloor.

His take on Coltrane’s Africa begins promisingly with a sweeping cadenza before hunkering into a pedestrian acid-jazz backbeat propelled by Crispin "Spry" Robinson’s jumpy conga. It’s an approach that already sounded flimsily dated back in 1996 when Pharoah Sanders collaborated with Bill Laswell on the beats-heavy Message From Home – here it just serves to remind that there’s no need for a coffee table when you’re taking it to the church.

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