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John Stevens Quartet New Cool Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

Drummer Stevens leads a young band in this slice of freebop recorded in 1992.

Martin Longley 2005

John Stevens ran many bands during his career, ranging from the completely abstract Spontaneous Music Ensemble to the rock and folk influenced Away. This quartet represents his more overtly jazzing side, and illustrates John's commitment to encouraging players who (at that time) were relatively unknown. Byron Wallen switches between trumpet and flugelhorn, whilst Ed Jones likewise moves from soprano to tenor horns. Gary Crosby plays bass and the leader hurls everything forward from behind his trademark midget drum-kit.

This is a reissue of the 1994 album that originally appeared on bassist Danny Thompson's short-lived Jazz Label. It's a live set, recorded at the 1992 Crawley Jazz Festival. The opening version of "Dudu's Gone" wasn't included on that old disc, and the Emanem label's Martin Davidson theorises in his sleeve note that this was perhaps due to the sound engineer performing a balancing act at the start of the gig. Davidson has tried to counteract these problems, and has done an efficient job, although some of the solo moments are still variable in volume at times.

The other reason for non-inclusion (apart from the fact that the band's signature tune gets another nine minutes at the end of the disc) is that the tune's ensemble theme is sketchily played at the opening and closing of the number, particularly by Wallen. Nevertheless, the trumpeter's solo (and also that of Ed Jones) justifies the track's inclusion.

The old album proper begins with "Do Be Up", whipped along by the leader's turbulent stick-motion, skipping and driving along with rhythmic pliability. Although Stevens is about as close here to mainline jazz as he ever came, his wayward contribution is in the feel and motion of the material, taking elements from Ornette Coleman's approach. Jones unravels asymmetrically, helped along by Gary Crosby's persistent bass thrust. Stevens rises up periodically, emitting his distinctive wail of abandonment. Then, Wallen takes things down with a breathy dusting of a solo, accompanied only by Crosby's spidery phrases.

"You're Life" is very relaxed by comparison, with the solos building and circling, bass and drums padding and pacing around, stoking towards the close, as they develop a tribal pulse which acts as a backdrop for some free-form horn-puttering. Crosby begins "2 Free 1" with a tentative figure, steadily increasing his insistency. The horns jostle, then take flight, with Jones on soprano saxophone, tipping in some searing soul-blues streaks.

This is a sturdy album that builds on what is becoming a substantial return to catalogue for the works of John Stevens and his various bands. If this programme continues, there should be no fear that his significant contribution to free music ever runs the risk of being forgotten.

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