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Mark Lockheart Ellington in Anticipation Review

Album. Released 2013.  

BBC Review

Seems sure to appeal equally to fans of Polar Bear, Lockheart and the Duke.

John Eyles 2013

Over 30 years, tenor saxophonist Mark Lockheart has steadily built up an impressive and eclectic discography.

Alongside albums on which he is leader – this is the eighth – he has been a member of such groundbreaking groups as Loose Tubes, Perfect Houseplants and Polar Bear. He’s also guested on classic records like Prefab Sprout’s Steve McQueen and Radiohead’s Kid A.

To record Ellington in Anticipation, Lockheart selected a star-studded group including his Polar Bear bandmates bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Rochford plus piano ace Liam Noble.

Alongside Lockheart are Finn Peters on alto sax and flute, clarinettist James Allsopp and violinist Emma Smith. That instrumentation gave Lockheart a versatile palette that he’s exploited to produce a rich variety of moods and textures.

The album’s 11 tracks include such well-loved Duke Ellington pieces as Mood Indigo and Creole Love Call alongside four Lockheart originals which borrow from and pay homage to Ellington.

Though Lockheart has been an Ellington fan for 40 years, this is not a tribute album of faithful recreations. Each piece has been rethought and radically remodelled to create vibrant new music.

The end results are Ellington for the 21st century.

So, his version of Take the A Train includes only an impressionistic reading of its distinctive horn riff. This piece is used as the basis for a loose, free-flowing improvisation with notable contributions from piano, drums and all three reeds.

In contrast, Lockheart’s My Caravan begins loosely as a percussion-driven improvisation which evolves gradually until closing with a full-blooded rendition of the refrain from Ellington’s own Caravan.

Above all, Lockheart is a first-rate composer and arranger, with Ellington’s knack of deploying individual players to give pieces distinctive characters. His full-bodied tenor playing impresses throughout, both as a soloist and in conjunction with Finn and Allsopp.

Noble’s piano playing repeatedly commands attention, notably on Beautiful Man, where he is joined by Smith’s violin to create an appealingly meditative mood, and on the hauntingly beautiful closing track Indian Summer.

Ellington in Anticipation seems sure to appeal equally to fans of Polar Bear, Lockheart and the Duke.

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