Allison Neale – I Wished On the Moon
(Trio Records. TR593. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
UK alto saxophonist Allison Neale has called her latest album a ‘tribute to the great West Coast altoists’. Her choice of tunes comes from the 50s and 60s – the music from her father’s record collection that she listened to as a child.
‘If you have individuality in music, it’s something to hold on to,’ Art Pepper (one of her heroes) once told an interviewer. Neale’s arrangement of I Wished on the Moon is influenced by Pepper’s own, but right from the start you can hear she has her own winsome sound. There’s a Paul Desmond softness, with some of the springiness of his phrasing. She highlights certain notes and lets the rest of the phrase bounce off them. The unhurried swing feel allows her tone lots of space to expand into a laid-back boppiness. Resonant Emotions was written in prison by Jimmy Heath and smuggled out to be recorded in 1956 by Pepper and Chet Baker. Neale’s version is enhanced by the resonance of Nat Steele’s vibes (he plays on four tracks). In another life, Steele’s also a fine drummer and his immaculate timing adds to the sense of joie de vivre in his solo here.
How Little We Know and You’re Looking at Me are swung a little slower. The former opens with Neale sounding very like Cannonball Adderley. Bassist Julian Bury’s solo has a rich tone, the notes falling over the creak of the wood. There’s a live sound to the album enhanced by these details, just as when Leon Greening’s piano runs away at the end with some of Neale’s notes, as if they were on a gig. Neale expounds the tune of You’re Looking at Me as if she’s playing the lyrics. The tempo is luxuriantly easy, with broad brushed cymbal strokes. Greening’s solo moves brilliantly from boppy lines into grand Oscar Peterson-ish chords.
The Breeze and I has a loose rhumba feel, with some of the Spanish bolero of the original. Steve Brown’s drum sound is wonderfully full over the rumbling bass. In the ballad The Night We Called It a Day, the sax solo and whispery brushes stretch the time across the slow bass pulse like spun sugar.
There’s plenty of fizzing boppy excitement too. Art Pepper’s Chilli Pepper has a scalding tempo. Neale’s alto solo sings, with her distinctive vibrato (a little Lee Konitz?) ending her phrases elegantly like a kick of the heels. One of the album’s highlights is where she and Steele swap jubilant 4s, towards the track’s end. The two play the convoluted heads of Tristano’s 317 East 32nd St and Marty Paich’s Sidewinder (no, not the Lee Morgan tune!) together with sparkling precision. Porter’s So In Love concludes the recording with Brown and Bury’s hard-swinging pulse, Green’s bop lines racing off the leash.
This is Cool School jazz played with warmth and commitment to the music. It’s never pastiche, but a passionate reworking of the music they love.