Nick Malcolm Quartet – Glimmers
(FMRCD335-0412. CD review by Alison Bentley)
For trumpeter Nick Malcolm, improvisation is when ‘…you’re not sure about what you’re going to play next; that’s where the inspiration comes from.’ There are inspired elements of composition and collective free improvisation in this deliciously original album- the quartet play with a fierce musical intelligence and wonderful openness to each other.
Bristol-based Malcolm has written most of the pieces. Some have more accessible structures: the beautiful Green Eyes has a slow hip-hop beat from drummer Mark Whitlam, with a Kenny Wheeler-ish yearning melody. Malcolm’s recent entertaining LondonJazz article describes some uses of the altered dominant chord. His polychords here are rivals in the scrunchiness stakes- what sounded like the darkness and Phrygian mystery of [flat 2 over 1]! Mr Carr starts as a 7/4 tango, with overtones of the Dave Holland Quintet, and moves through several stages.
Oxford-based Alexander Hawkins’ superb piano solo ( fast, time-no-changes) recalls James Weidman’s M-BASE work, with its lopsided accents. The trumpet concludes with a folky minor melody. Call Off Christmas recalls Wynton Marsalis’ Standard Time (Autumn Leaves), where the rhythm section accelerates unnervingly in and out of double time, here undermining the atonal head.
There’s also something of Marsalis’ tone and lightness of touch in the spirited trumpet solo . The title Lehman Brothers + Pak Choi (The whiff of both banking scandal and Chinese cabbage) is a good example of Malcolm’s humour.
There’s a lot of playfulness as the piece unfolds, with a Steve Coleman-esque chromatic head over a loping 3/4 bass theme. Free duets emerge, where the instruments start to sound more and more like each other, with Evan Parker-like fricative trumpet sounds. The time-no-changes section has Malcolm sounding like Steve Waterman, with his energetic huge leaps and high squeals. Hawkins can play all kinds of jazz superbly, but here he sends the notes scurrying up the piano as if they’ve a mind of their own.
Olie Brice’s two fine tunes have Ornette Coleman influences: Multifarious’ slow piano and trumpet theme contrasts with Whitlam’s creative percussion- he sounds like a child rummaging in a toybox. Brice’s bass solo has tumbling notes and creaking strings, enjoying their buzz and rattle. Tie Your Laces begins freely, with the trumpet gently squealing in an improvised duet- the piano part sounds like a Ligeti Étude. The trumpet becomes insistently motivic, a little like Dave Douglas, while Hawkins’ increasingly anarchic piano draws on the work of Pat Thomas.
Malcolm’s jazz influences from his pianist grandfather are perhaps shown in the title Three Little Words (Om Tat Sat) -jazz standard meets Sanskrit mantra. But the piece itself subverts the idea of the standard: it’s an improvised trilogy, from an ‘In a Silent Way’ meditative section, into humorous but elemental abstract sounds, fading away.
The Quartet sound like but also unlike their influences, transcending them, in their own unique style. The album’s first piece, Glimmers, is a microcosm: free jazz, funk, modern classical music, swing- the more you listen, the more bewitching glimmers you hear.