ASQ (Arabella Sprot Quintet) – Kafka’s Dance
(Self-released. CD review by Jon Turney)
Here’s a nice calling card from a new voice on tenor saxophone recently graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire’s master’s course. ASQ are the Arabella Sprot Quintet , and the leader is joined by four other Birmingham players – Nick Dewhurst on trumpet, James Banner on double bas, Ric Yarborough on drums, and the comparative veteran Steve Tromans on piano.
It is actually her second CD – an earlier recording came from a quartet she ran while studying in Bristol a few years ago. This new offering shows a player growing in confidence enough to present a solo saxophone piece, Sphere, which draws on close study of Mark Turner. Her other main inspirations are Joe Lovano and Stan Getz and she shares with all three of those models an ability to muse lingeringly on the beauty of a line or unleash a burst of power just when it is needed.
All the compositions here are Sprot’s and they are the basis for a democratically improvised music, pretty free on the second track, Closer, generally more straightforward elsewhere. There is a lot of spirited interaction here, especially with Dewhurst’s trumpet, and plenty of variety. Cheeky Pint Blues is a fairly routine hard-bopper but the rest sound more contemporary. All five players acquit themselves well although Tromans’ keyboard work is not always well served by the electric piano sound he is confined to throughout. On acoustic piano, on the evidence of a recent gig, he likes to adopt a hard-hitting style that evokes Don Pullen but the electric timbre can sometimes make this approach lose definition– I’m guessing this was a budget constraint on this self-produced session rather than because it was the exact sound sought.
Generally, though, these tracks show youthful ambition very impressively realised. Fittingly, this comes across especially well on the closing two-part Kafka Suite, inspired by one of the leader’s literary heroes. Hard to say whether it will evoke anything Kafkaesque for many listeners, but it is an absorbing 17 minutes of music. Kafka’s Dance is a simple, slightly halting theme that ushers in a solo from Sprot built in unusually long phrases that float enticingly over the rhythm, and appropriate responses from Tromans and Dewhurst. Kafka’s Revenge sounds as if it will turn darker, but remains unexpectedly upbeat– with an impassioned excursion from Tromans and cheerfully jousting horns.
The leader, a German scholar, has just moved to Berlin in pursuit of her other career as a translator and tutor, but hopes to keep this band together. If this CD proves only the beginning for the quintet, it is an excellent foundation. Even if it doesn’t, it marks the emergence of a talent to watch.