CD REVIEW: Peter Jones – Utopia

Peter Jones – Utopia
(Howlin’ Werewolf HW002, CD review by Mark McKergow)

London-based vocalist and lyricist Peter Jones’s second venture in the recording studio produces a fine collection of swinging jazz with great solos, some nice surprises and a superb sound.

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Let’s start with the surprises. Jones has added his own lyrics to some classic instrumental jazz tunes, with good results. Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar is rendered even more atmospheric than the 1971 original, with Jones’s smooth baritone paving the way for a snappy double time guitar solo from Nigel Price. Henry Lowther, one of the most undersung of our trumpeters, then hits the mark squarely before Neil Angilley takes a lolloping turn on Fender Rhodes. One of the absolute pleasures of this collection is that with musicians of this calibre lurking in the background and waiting to spring out, every track is an adventure.

Pinging piano strings make a mysterious introduction to Love Theme from Chinatown. Jones’s lyrics to this instrumental ballad from the Jack Nicholson/Faye Dunaway movie add another dimension to a great melody and surely pave the way for us to hear it more often. Taking the pace to the other end of the spectrum, John Coltrane’s Impressions forms the basis for an urgent song about being on the run, before the soloists jump at the chance to show their mettle. Misha Mullov-Abbado’s double bass gives great underpinning here before getting his own solo spot. The fact that these original lyrics sit so well against the other songs is testament to Jones’ jazz sensibilities and skill.

The more established songs don’t disappoint either. Donald Fagen’s Maxine is given an uptempo swinging treatment with Davide Giovannini’s drum introduction setting the pace before Jones’ vocal and another particularly sparkling piano solo from Angilley. There are several ballads on the album, which seem to me to show off Jones’ voice particularly well. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most really ups the melancholy, with delicate acoustic guitar work from Nigel Price. Jones is also prepared to take on Sinatra, with a lovely extended reading of It Was A Very Good Year. There’s A Lull In My Life has space for Lowther’s trumpet to stretch out with magnificent results.

The sound recording is really top-class throughout – the band just seemed to leap out of the speakers on my very modest setup, so engineer Derek Nash can be very pleased with his work. Taken all in all, this is a great collection and a marvellous exhibition of the kind of talent we are lucky enough to have on our doorsteps here in London.

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