Ben Lee Quintet – In The Tree
(Stoney Lane Records SLR1892. CD review by Mike Collins)
Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records are getting into their stride, making sure that there’s no excuse for missing the creative hubbub being generated in the city. With In the Tree, they showcase the talents of young guitarist Ben Lee who leads a quintet comprising an unusual combination of his guitar, David Ferris on organ, Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone and Euan Palmer at the drums.
There’s a constant shifting between points on the musical compass throughout the set of ten originals but, to borrow one the trends amongst young European jazz groups discerned by Henning Bolte in his round up of this year’s 12 Points Festival, rock/ new beats is the general direction in which this band points with some large doses of playfulness.
Folk Theme kicks things off, sounding for all the world like it might be the theme from a western with throbbing bass drum and a simple atmospheric melody from the guitar but is immediately subverted by a snappy groove , the horns and organ conjuring up a competing vibe. Ferris’ solo surfs the energy and clatter. In the Tree’s oom-pah feel and simple theme give the band space to clamber over each other and hint at the potential for a more raucous performance live. First Contact ramps things up with a raunchy, rocky groove and more collective blowing and some expansive soloing from the leader and Ferris.
Beginning of the End’s skipping, slightly frenetic beat keeps the energy high, building riff on on riff laced with plenty of distorting guitar. Hygge conjures a more reflective atmosphere through melody whilst Drone sketches more with colours and textures. Kickin the Chicken hints both at southern african grooves and Caribbean melodies. The quirky Skateboarding On My Own, just voice and and acoustic guitar closes the set.
This is an ensemble performance with Lee’s guitar a constant presence but not always in the spotlight. This collection has an unmistakably creative and individual stamp however. Both Peter Bacon and Tony Dudley Evans picked him out in London Jazz’s 2015 end of year lists. This album shows us why.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman
LINK: Interview with Ben Lee