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CD Review: Jez Franks Cash Cows

Jez Franks’ Compassionate Dictatorship. Cash Cows (FMR Records)
(CD Review by Thomas Gray)

The second album from Compassionate Dictatorship will resonate with fans of Partisans and Jonathan Bratoëff’s quartet with its effective marriage of an energetic rock feel, earthy grooves and moments of reflective tenderness. Guitarist Jez Franks, a lecturer at Leeds College and the Royal Academy, and one of the main movers behind E17 Jazz, co-leads this group with sax player Tori Freestone and writes most of the material on this album. Franks engages right away with the clever rythmic displacement in the three-note opening statement of the first track ‘Mushroom Effect’. While some of the other themes don’t quite stand out in the same way, there is enough detail beneath the surface to warrant repeated listens. The aptly-titled ‘Mr Mish Mash’ is typical of Franks’s compositional approach, splicing together a thrashy opening, a breezily swinging waltz and a free-time metal interlude.

Opting for a clean tone on most tracks, Franks patiently constructs some beguilingly flowing solos in a Pat Metheny vein, while Freestone’s brawny and slightly freer tenor playing adds contrast. Freestone’s affecting arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ succeeds in capturing the wistful sentiment of the original song. Bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Ben Reynolds (picture above has James Maddren) provide excellent support, navigating the gear-shifts of tempo and metre on pieces such as ‘Six Degrees’ with considerable flair.

Occasionally, it would be good to hear the frontline pair stretching out and taking a few more risks. This could help differentiate Compassionate Dictatorship from the sizeable crop of Brit Jazz acts which plays this type of music very well. Nevertheless, they are a group who I am sure would be worth catching live.

Sadly, a national tour has just finished but you can catch Tori Freestone this Saturday (June 19th), when she will be appearing with Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic at the Vortex in a double bill with Henry Lowther’s Still Waters. This is part of British Jazz Generations, segue-ing into the jam with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members and Tomorrow’s Warriors players.
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Tori Freestone is appearing with her trio – Tim Giles on drums and Dave Mannington on bass at the Plough in Wood Street, Walthamstow (an E17jazz gig) on Thursday 24th June. Jez Franks will be at the same venue with Nick Smalley on drums and Julie Walkington, bass on Thurs 8th July.

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