Mark Perry and Duncan Eagles – Road Ahead
(F-IRE. F-IRECD 65. CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)
This group’s début album opens with the two college friends, trumpeter Mark Perry and saxophonist Duncan Eagles working through an intricate unaccompanied counterpoint, which then launches into a driving groove with solos from each, set against an intricate and searching rhythmic backdrop. You know from the outset of this of this road trip that there will be many treats and surprises in store.
To give you a bit more of a feel for how things go, Chris Nickolls on drums maintains this fierce pace with the horns in full flow into the second number, Chord Game, before pulling away to allow piano and bass to enter a duel, each toying with the dark harmonic framework on offer. Shawty gives us a relaxed jazz waltz feel with the two horns pitched an octave apart to set the scene for Ola Onabule to vocalise the main theme. Perry and Eagles respond with mellow laid back solos before Onabule weaves a soulful line of this own through their close-knit voicings. Forever starts life as a haunting ballad that picks up momentum as trumpet joins sax and vocals add some sustained multi-tracked choral harmonies. The structure offers great scope for distinctive solos on this tune – you can really feel the musicians basking in the various harmonic moves it makes.
The inimitable Gareth Lockrane joins the line-up on flute for a sit-com-esque lark of a thing called Barter’s Band, where Lockrane leads off the solos with a tour-de-force smörgåsbord of ideas (and again on One Last Kiss). Sam Leak’s piano solo to follow is an inspired breeze, as indeed is all his playing here. Next up lots of cheeky playing around with whole tones from Perry on trumpet. The team trade fours with Nickolls on this number, which works extremely well given the accented head. It’s my favourite tune for sure, very tongue in cheek. It provides a nice contrast to the more subtle and sultry tunes like the title track Road Ahead and Remember.
The pair have effectively used this recording session to not just set out their wares, but to raise the bar for those who follow, with this assured but varied contemporary offering that rewards the listener, without trying too hard. Both musicians, along with the mighty Max Luthert on bass, whose sterling contribution here is not be underestimated, have been actively honing their craft on the London scene for the past few years. These tunes have clearly benefited from being worked on and played in over a period of time before the musicians recorded the album. That’s perhaps the right way round to do things – test it out and gauge people’s response before you commit ideas to vinyl. That’s also perhaps why this recording sounds so good – everyone was relaxed and on fine form, giving it the vibe of a live album with the precision of a studio take.