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Dave Stapleton Flight Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A departure for British jazz talent Stapleton, and a fine one indeed.

Martin Longley 2012

Edition Records has rapidly established itself as one of the most vital UK jazz imprints. Co-owner, pianist and composer Dave Stapleton also happens to be one of its most dynamic signings. Working out of Cardiff, he’s paused his regular quintet line-up to initiate what's presumed to be a one-off project.

Possible comparisons between Edition and the revered ECM label become even more marked here, as Flight inducts the Brodowski String Quartet, as well as the Norwegian tenor saxophonist Marius Neset. Right away, this sets up the potential for an evocative soundscape of the type for which ECM has long been renowned. This need not be a disadvantage.

Flight is already the prolific Stapleton’s eighth release as a leader. The inclusion of Neset is astute, given that his Edition debut Golden Xplosion caused such a stir in 2011. The so-called Third Stream genre has been amalgamating spheres of jazz and classical music since the 1950s, and even though such elements have lately become more naturally integrated, their joining still provokes a sense of wariness in both listening camps.

All of the pieces are Stapleton originals, and the session was recorded in Copenhagen, where Neset currently resides. There’s a feeling of suite-like progression as the varied emotional states are layered one on another, an unsurprisingly filmic character. Even though much of the album is inwardly gazing, there are repeated outbreaks of jazz toughness.

Stapleton’s writing for strings suggests an acquaintance with the works of Gavin Bryars and Arvo Pärt. This is principally due to a pervading aura of studied calm, an exquisitely mournful nature. The Brodowskis open alone for two minutes before Stapleton’s quartet joins for Polaroid, imposing a degree of lustiness, once Neset’s feathery tenor introduction has further enhanced the mood. The title-cut is also brief, and devoted to string expression. It’s followed by the introspective Henryk, which curves up to a passionate climax.

Neset is frequently the featured voice, with Stapleton acting as landscaper, and the periodic outbursts of intensity are all the more compelling when surrounded by periods of placidity. Two of the album’s lengthiest pieces conclude, with dignified string-preening evolving towards a strafing flourish. Neset takes a blistering solo, as Dave Kane flays his bass strings brutally and Stapleton delivers emphatically jabbing phrases. Eventually, the strings re-establish a brooding suspension.

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