CD Review: George Crowley Quartet – Paper Universe

CD Review: George Crowley Quartet – Paper Universe
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4622. CD Review by Tom Gray

Tenor saxophonist George Crowley brings to this recording the kind of sage judgement and restraint you would more typically associate with a veteran of the scene than a twenty-something music college graduate. The young London-based player eschews showy pyrotechnics in favour of unhurried, lyrical playing on an accomplished and assured debut.

The album’s title references the German writer W. G. Sebald’s description of the chaos of an academic’s office. It is the absence of clutter, however, that characterises this music. There is an abundance of space: between the thoughtful introductory statements of Crowley’s solos; in the sparse, alert comping of pianist Kit Downes; in the glacial opening theme of ‘Still Life’.

This latter composition brings to mind groups such as Fly and Polar Bear, but Crowley’s writing also embraces the tradition with echoes of the free-bop of Ornette Coleman on ‘Marty McFly’ and the sophisticated balladry of Wayne Shorter on ‘Embracing Air’. The most discernible influence on Crowley as an instrumentalist appears to be Mark Turner, from his attractively breathy, vintage tone to his snaking upper register turns of phrase. ‘Demerara Days’, a mid-tempo swinger, is presumably a nod to Turner’s 2001 album, ‘Dharma Days’.

The line-up is completed by the remaining members of Downes’s working trio, with Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums. Though operating in a more straight-ahead context here than in Downes’s trio, their fine-tuned interplay and ear for more abstract realms helps to get the most out of the material, giving it a contemporary edge.

This is the kind of debut on which illustrious careers are built, and which deserves to raise Crowley’s profile well beyond the London scene.

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