Ronan Guilfoyle – Hands
(Portmanteau Records. CD review by Mike Collins)
It’s probably a safe bet to say there aren’t many father-son trips to New York that take in a recording session at the legendary Systems Two studios in Brooklyn. Hands is the result of just such an excursion. Irish bass player Ronan Guilfoyle and guitarist son Chris Guilfoyle teamed up with two of the city’s most distinctive and adventurous voices in saxophonist David Binney and drummer Tom Rainey to record this set. Seven of Guilfoyle senior’s distinctively grooving but angular and twisting compositions give equal air time to ensemble playing, intense soloing and interactive exchanges.
The sound of the band is sparse, with Chris Guilfoyle’s guitar acting like a second melodic voice as often as supplying texture or harmony, frequently doubling Binney’s darting lines. In Fairness kicks the session off with wonky boppish lines unfurled at length. Sneaky’s insistent pulse underpins a snaking theme stated first by the bass and then bounced around the band. Hands also has an extended development with phrases and themes from bass, sax and guitar gradually locking together, jigsaw like, thickening the intensity. Close Call’s motifs jostle for position in dissonant counterpoint over a spritely groove. The ballad Krystal introduces a meditative air whilst Nod is a burner with an insistent jagged phrase for a hook.
The atmosphere is concentrated and the harmonies occasionally astringent, but there’s nothing reined-in about the band. Binney’s playing is dazzling, his improvising gathering pace and fizzing with lightening quick lines, and sometimes, as on Hands, releasing the tension with bursts of distorted lyricism. Chris Guilfoyle dances, nudges and engages with Binney throughout, finding unexpected colours and timbres from his guitar and revealing a probing and inventive musicality in exciting, free-er exchanges. Ronan Guilfoyle’s bass, the fourth dimension to these layered and often complex pieces leads, sets the scene and in a constant, interactive partnership with master of the kit Tom Rainey, supplies the defining ingredient to this fundamentally grooving collection.
It’s music akin to good poetry. Distilled meaning, alluring at a first sight, but whose pleasures and insights reveal themselves more fully with repeated visits.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman