CD REVIEW: Andy Scott + Group S – Ruby & All Things Purple

Andy Scott + Group S – Ruby & All Things Purple
(Basho Records SRCD 52-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Our musical timelines are threaded with waymarkers which, once in a while, magically point us back down the road to those first sit-up-and-listen experiences. They can appear fleeting, yet seem firmly anchored for all time.

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There’s a point in saxophonist, composer and bandleader Andy Scott’s new release Ruby & All Things Purple which, thanks to the brilliance of renowned electric bassist Laurence Cottle, manages that, hands down. At the heart of the third number of twelve – luxurious Chapters (written by Scott’s pianist here, Gwilym Simcock) – is one of the most ravishing fretless bass solos, whose pattering, chordal-swooning phrases are evocative of Jeff Berlin or, indeed, Jaco Pastorius. It’s been ‘rewound’ countless times already – such expressions are the essence of art which can move, excite, recall… and leave a lasting impression.

A saxophonist and educator whose career has seen his tenor saxophone concerto performed by Branford Marsalis and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Andy Scott is also a member of the renowned Apollo Saxophone Quartet; and his new name for this particular project was personally proffered by no less a luminary than Wayne Shorter. At first, Group S’s big, reedy wall of sound might seem overwhelming (it’s an impressive ten-piece section, plus rhythm section, which includes saxophonists Rob Buckland, Chris Caldwell and John Helliwell); but there’s more to this album than first meets the ear.

Scott is a masterful arranger, as heard in his opening title track’s shifting, purposeful strata and in his opulent, bass-sax-pulsating Salt of the Earth; but so, too, are his colleagues. Closely-meshed crescendos in Rob Cope’s Little Glass Box (written for a magician friend) mark its suitably mesmerising progression; Mike Hall’s frantic, hard-driven thriller, Sabretooth, is a stand-out; and Simcock’s infectious, high-grooving (knicker-throwing?) arrangement of Sex Bomb – yes, of Tom Jones chart-hit fame – could confidently be retitled ‘sax bomb’.

The band’s rhythm-makers are the bedrock of these colourful, original compositions, with solid-rocking guitarist James Pusey and drummer Elliott Henshaw consistently delivering their heady punch (including Scott’s impertinent, tricky (floating in a) Tin Can which ripples to the jarring, quarter-tone peak of his tenor riff). Laurence Cottle, too, is key to this recording’s energy and lyrical beauty – so much so that turning up the bass frequency is especially rewarding. At the opposite end of the dynamic scale is Gwilym Simcock’s lofty, tranquil piano improvisation, Manyara, based on Andy Scott’s series of notated four-part chords, with instructions as to form and direction, and coda.

Recorded at the studio of long-respected musicians Jon Hiseman and Barbara Thompson – both of whom appear on the final, heartfelt track, Scott’s La Grande Image, which is dedicated to them – here is an album which, along with informative booklet notes about each track, is a pleasure to get to know.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com

FEATURE: Andy Scott + Group S – Ruby & All Things Purple (Basho)
Ruby & All Things Purple is released today.

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