The Printmakers – Westerly
(Basho Records SRCD 46-2. CD review by Mike Collins)
The Printmakers don’t rush things. Five years ago they were nominated for best band in the Parliamentary Jazz awards. There had been no recording, just the accumulated buzz around relatively infrequent appearances of a collaboration between some of the best players on the British scene. Now, eighteen months or so after they recorded this set live in a Lake District hideaway, their debut album Westerly is released and what a treat it is.
Pianist and composer Nikki Iles and national jazz treasure and ECM recording artist Norma Winstone are the heart of this band that blends the prodigious creative energies of guitarists Mike Walker, saxophonist Mark Lockheart, the bass playing of Steve Watts and drummer James Maddren. Together, a mixture of Iles originals, compositions by friends and collaborators like Steve Swallow, Ralph Towner or John Taylor and a couple of songs by Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon are infused with an un rushed energy.
Each piece is allowed to gather momentum and thicken in intensity, the development beautifully weighted, improvisations bubbling up out of the mix. The opener, Ralph Towner’s A Breath Away, builds like a slow exhalation from wordless sighs, delicately placed piano chords, through rhythmic nudges and hook-ups until Winstone’s lyric is flowing over an urgent samba groove and Lockheart’s tenor solo bursts through as if it can’t be held back any longer. Nikki Iles’ Under the Canopy and Tideway both have a soft Brazilian tinge, Joni Mitchell’s darkly obsession themed Two Grey Rooms and Swallow’s wryly humourous City of Dallas both get a country-ish tinge to the steady pulse. Iles’ Westerly (surely soon to become a Brit-jazz standard?) has more than a tinge with the occasional quiet swell of accordion and Steve Watts fading out on banjo. Dancing grooves and a brisker tempo sweep John Taylors’ O and another Iles original High Lands along.
Whether it’s the awkward interval leaps and spikey theme of O or the languorous lope of Westerly there’s a perfect blend and balance to this band which comes surely from familiarity with each other but also from individuals who seem at the peak of their powers, doing just what’s needed to make the music glow. Iles unfurls typically lyrical and constantly inventive solos, but also sits back and adds to the groove; Walker rocks out on High Lands, but equally threads the subtlest of lines into the mix in other places; Watts and Maddren are never at the front of the mix but are fizzingly propulsive throughout; the blend of Lockheart’s sax and Winstone’s voice is uncanny at times sounding like a single new sound.
This is quietly energetic, joyous music. The Printmakers have given us a print that will last.
The official album launch of Westerly is at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street tonight 14th May 2015.