Aquarium – Places
(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ010. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Royal Academy alumnus Sam Leak identifies Keith Jarrett and Paul Bley as his chief pianistic influences, and there is more than a whiff of the former discernible in Leak’s dancing, rhythmic joyousness (and – perhaps less welcome – his habit of singing along with his solos) on the more up-tempo pieces on this, his second album (Aquarium’s eponymous debut was issued on Babel a couple of years back).
Leak shares frontline duties, as before, with James Allsopp, and the latter’s tenor and bass clarinet, by adopting a relatively structured, melodic approach to soloing, provide a telling complement to Leak’s somewhat breathless, headlong verbosity, overtly referenced in tune titles such as ‘Scribbles and Scrawls’ and ‘Clutter’.
There are also quieter moments, though, in which Leak shows his more lyrical side, and occasionally (most notably in ‘Milan’, performed here in two versions, a studio visit and a live performance at the 2011 LJF featuring Sam Crockatt on tenor) even a Coltrane-like contemplative earnestness skilfully exploited by the versatile and consistently powerful but measured Allsopp.
Bass and drums duties are performed by Calum Gourlay and Joshua Blackmore respectively, and the former brings all the rich, cushioning tuneful propulsiveness associated with his Kit Downes Trio work to Leak’s compositions, and the latter, as in his work for Troyka and Curios, combines an awareness of the striking effectiveness of contemporary beats with an ability to drive an acoustic jazz ensemble in a more conventional manner.
Infused with the energy and commitment that spring naturally from the personal nature of the compositions (inspired as they are by experiences in Milan and Marrakech as well as a mugging in Catherine Grove, London), Places at times positively seethes with vigour and pep, but (appropriately enough, given Leak’s predeliction for Paul Bley) also contains a fair amount of freer, more introspective playing.
Aquarium will play the Vortex on 30th May as part of their Jazz Services supported tour