Ivo Neame – Strata
(Whirlwind WR4674. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Ivo Neame is such a busy, popular figure on the London scene, we are in danger of taking him for granted. Strata is a recording of his quintet project, with eight original compositions which are often challenging and unpredictable. Taken as a whole, however, it is a very natural, dynamic and truthful record of Neame’s friendly and sophisticated musicality.
The chunky chords, stops and starts, sweeping tenor and urgent vibraphones of Personality Clash affirm the ambitions of the album, before moving into a fast paced swing keeping Tom Farmer and Dave Hamblett on bass and drums decidedly busy. Neame’s slick piano improvisation is followed by a racing vibraphone solo, heightened with intense piano backing.
There is a slow emergence into the title track, with Eric Satie keys joined by sustained wobbling synth. The rest of the group appear slowly appear from over the horizon before Tori Freestone warms into a grand Wayne Shorter tenor statement on arrival. A more pensive foil to the energetic opening track, the haunting synth motif ties the piece together as it waxes and wanes.
The mood is maintained with a suspense-filled start, with brooding tenor work and drawn accordion backing in OCD Blues – the unsettling changes in dynamics, tempo and texture promised in the overattentive title. The composition climaxes on the call and response solo between Jim Hart’s rolling vibes and chunky keys. Our musical palate is then cleansed with the succinct, more traditional ballad Miss Piggy. Neame playing a rich supporting role, rising and falling beneath the unhurried and uncluttered saxophone.
Crise de Nerfs brings the tempo back to its earlier heights with a pushed shuffle and nimble flute. Like Personality Clash, this is an opportunity for Hart to stretch out with the bass, piano and drums working beautifully as a unit.
Eastern Chant revisits the connection between the back-line, with the piano and bass dialogue reinterpreted from the previous track, as three independent players combining together. Perhaps both unintentionally and inevitably, inflections from his long periods of time with Phronesis shine through when cut back to this trio format, with driving rhythmic jolts and charismatic bass. We’re transported further east with the Balkan arrival of accordion and flute in the proud Folk Song, before the strong beats are restructured to support a free-ranging Freestone solo.
Strata closes with the clear and atmospheric Snowfall, with its sincere head dropping out to leave an opportunity for Farmer to plumb the upper ranges of his bass in what is the most cut back composition on the album, leaving more space for the musician’s themselves to explore instead of following a piece’s structures.
This is a group of musicians who know each other well from other groups, for example Hart and Neame from their time together in Gemini and Neame’s last outing as leader Into the Light of Day (Loop, 2009), and Dave Hamblett’s own group, of which Neame is a regular member. Neame’s multi-instrumental background – he is often seen with alto in hand – certainly gives him the understanding to bring the woodwind deep into the compositions. As set out with this project, each track very much has its own identity. More impressively this variety sits well as a whole, tied together by his probing keyboards. It is testament to the compositions that this group of in-demand musicians came together to produce and contribute to this strong and interesting work which is a fascinating and worthwhile addition to the Ivo Neame catalogue.