CD REVIEW: Kate Williams – Atlas & Vulcana

Kate Williams – Atlas & Vulcana
(kwjazz740. CD Review by Jonathan Carvell)

Kate Williams’ latest album Atlas & Vulcana is a highly accomplished record driven by great writing, effortless arranging and a super-tight band. In Victorian times Atlas and Vulcana were a strongman and woman duo (Vulcana’s real name also being Kate Williams), and the album begins in suitably muscular fashion with a brooding and bustling groove to the title track. Flashes of virtuosity from Williams on piano, Tristan Mailliot on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass set the scene, and from this point creativity bursts forth in all directions.

The full septet is introduced on the second track Duped: the album’s foundations now established, the richly orchestrated four piece horn section feels like a great splash of colour. Duped begins with a simple idea which then branches out seamlessly across trumpet, sax, trombone and flute – Tom White taking a storming trombone solo. The highly skilled and sometimes mischievous tutti horn sections on this track and alsoBear Hops have echoes of the great charts Loose Tubes wrote in the 80s. In terms of groove and technical virtuosity Strange But True is a real stand-out moment on the album. Here Williams’ natural compositional gifts combine with sublime instrumental work and scintillating solos: Steve Fishwick in particular on trumpet.

However, this record goes beyond romping swing and intense groove. Williams has an acute awareness of timbre and texture in the quieter moments of the album, as Moonset’s misty Gil Evans-style chords and floating bass melody show. The Far Side is another exquisitely crafted piece which begins with overtones of Debussy and Ravel, but also nods to harmonies redolent of early Robert Glasper. The penultimate track on the album is the only one not written by Williams. Her arrangement of the standard My Shining Hour further demonstrates a great natural command of the septet idiom. The band really shines on this track, with Gareth Lockrane on flute effortlessly leading the line in a succession of blistering solos from the band – Alex Garnett at the height of his powers on tenor sax.

The album draws to a close cyclically with a reprise of the title track, this time for septet rather than trio. This is a nice touch and gives shape to the record a whole, but ultimately a sense of concept takes a back seat: Atlas & Vulcana is about excellent writing, naturally creative arranging and first-rate players.

Kate Williams: Piano
Gareth Lockrane: Flute, Alto and Bass Flute
Steve Fishwick: Trumpet and Flugelhorn
Alex Garnett: Tenor Sax
Tom White: Trombone
Oli Hayhurst: Bass
Tristan Mailliot: Drums (1, 5, 7, 9)
Matt Fishwick: Drums (2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11)

Atlas & Vulcana is released on 13th November. The launch gig will be on that night at the 606 Club

Categories: miscellaneous

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