Alex Garnett’s Bunch of 5 – Andromeda
(Whirlwind WR4664. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)
Ronnie Scott used to cite fanciful attractions like Pam Ayres and The Red Arrows alongside genuine jazz legends when he previewed forthcoming events at his club. “What a galaxy of talent”, he would say, whimsically. Saxophonist Alex Garnett now presents the “Late Late Show” from the same stage every Monday and Tuesday night, and his new CD Andromeda features five of the brightest stars on today’s jazz scene.
The band Bunch of 5 has Garnett shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow tenor man Tim Armacost. The resourceful Liam Noble is in the piano chair, label boss Michael Janisch is on bass, and the drummer is the ever-cheerful James Maddren.
All but two of the eight pieces are by Garnett, and he explains that his compositions “reflect brief moments in a twenty-year passage of time through my musical life experience”. The opening So Long! – inspired by Benny Golson’s “prowess and melodicism” – was intended as a tune that would work in various styles, but here it’s played straight-up with few frills. Charlie’s World is dedicated to Garnett’s young son; refreshingly, it’s not a soppy ballad. Interweaving and occasionally clashing saxophone lines represent Charlie’s “persistent vying for attention”, and a quotation of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” is both affectionate and humorous.
An unaccompanied passage for Garnett and Armacost on Delusions of Grandma is a highlight of the set. An uptempo number – ideal for the two tenor format – it contains a typically imaginative and tidy solo from Maddren before a Monkish conclusion is reached. You can imagine the guys having fun on this one.
Bunch of 5 do not always pack the punch you might hope for, however, and the sparkle of the best pieces seems to be replaced by a rather anonymous conservatism on others. This may be because the group has not developed a distinctive personality, and is not (or ever likely to become) a regular gigging entity. Early Autumn doesn’t work for me at all, and Janisch and Noble – despite a couple of fine solos – are relatively low in the mix and appear unusually diffident throughout the set.
Garnett sounds most comfortable on the closing tunes. Holmes, and the old standard I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm – taken a bit faster than normal – suit the leader’s gregarious style to a tee. The parts where he and Armacost work in harness are far more successful than those which are gladatorial.
Andromeda does not come close to Garnett’s terrific first release as a leader, Serpent, but it’s a good album, skillfully delivered by top-notch players, and has many enjoyable moments.
Friday 9 January – Fleece Jazz @ Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Colchester
Sunday 18 January – Herts Jazz @ Campus West, Welwyn Garden City
Monday 19 January – 606 Club, London (album launch)
Tuesday 20 January – Dempseys, Cardiff, Wales
Wednesday 21 January – St James Social Club-Swansea Jazzland
Thursday 22 January – The Coronation Tap, Bristol
Friday 23 January – Wakefield Jazz Club/Wakefield Sports Club
Friday 6 February – The Cube/Déda, Derby
Thursday 2 April – The Progress Theatre, Reading