Alison Rayner Quintet – August
(Blow the Fuse Records. CD Review by Kim Macari)
Bassist and composer Alison Rayner has been a valued member of the UK jazz community for almost forty years, not only as a player but also as a champion for women in jazz. This year, she releases her long-awaited debut album as leader, August.
Recorded live at the Vortex (one of Rayner’s musical homes), August is almost like a musical memoir; full of nods to Rayner’s influences and musical career to date. Joined by four of her closest musical companions, the group’s tight and assured playing are superbly suited to play Rayner’s compositions.
Throughout the album, Rayner skilfully combines voices to play melodies; guitar and saxophone often work together, blending well to bring out the melodies in String Theory and Half a World Away, while the title track finds the timbre shifting between bass/tenor and piano/guitar.
August opens with a bass melody reminiscent of Charlie Haden (a player cited as a main influence in August’s liner notes) and the piece confirms that Alison is as at home as a melody instrument as she is being a driving force in the rhythm section, with her thoughtful and melodic soloing being a particular highlight.
Nowhere is the versatility and considered playing of the band heard more clearly than in Vejer De La Frontera. Rayner opens the piece with long-time collaborator Deirdre Cartwright on guitar before the groove kicks in and the openness of the rhythm section leaves space for Cartwright and saxophonist Diane McLoughlin (who shines particularly on soprano) to bring out the singing melody. The atmosphere of the piece suits Cartwright well and this may well be her stand-out solo of the album. Meanwhile, pianist Steve Lodder weaves around the melody and often brings out phrases in the solos, highlighting his skill as a sensitive accompanist.
Many listeners will know Alison from her work in The Jam Today and The Guest Stars in the 70’s and 80’s so it’s apt that she should include pieces that feature strong grooves and funk on the album. Mr Stanley II and Hyperbubble showcase the team-work of Rayner and drummer Buster Birch and Deirdre Cartwright switches between the roles of rhythm section player and soloist with ease.
There’s a wealth of melodic and harmonic references throughout the album (you can hear Monk in the bebop-inspired Queer Bird, a structure similar to Kenny Wheeler’s Mark Time in String Theory and Elegy for Art has hints of Keith Jarrett ’s writing in it), giving listeners an insight in Alison’s musical mind. Though extremely varied stylistically, one comes away with a strong sense of Rayner’s musical personality both as a player and composer. The debut album couldn’t be stronger and audiences will no doubt be keen to hear what Alison has to say next.