Matt Anderson Quartet – Rambling
(Jellymould Jazz JJ030. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Confession: I find there’s an oversupply of new jazz these days. Now the music is installed in the conservatoires, each year brings a heavy crop of new bands – fresh graduates eager to strut their stuff. Nearly all of them record, then tour. But while the system turns out crowds of great players, good writing is more elusive. Lots of bands work through all-original sets where the material gives them little to work with. The seasoned listener finds most briefly enjoyable, then forgettable.
So it’s a pleasure to report that saxophonist Matt Anderson’s second release is a shining exception to all this. That’s not a surprise – opening (and closing) track Jig, Jag, Jug, won the small ensemble category of the Dankworth prize for composition last year. But the other eight titles are of similar quality. There are memorable melodies, adeptly interwoven influences from Scandinavia (Nordic Blue – think Scandi-noir crime stories as well as music), and folk and country music, and thoughtful arrangements. The rhythmic invention is pure jazz, but the approach is still subtle, well-measured. The prevalent mood is pastoral, yet rugged – hence a temptation to invoke the Yorkshire moors, where Anderson grew up.
The billing as the Matt Anderson quartet slightly undersells the recording. The basic foursome – Anderson on tenor, Pete Lee on piano, Will Harris on double-bass and Jay Davis on drums – expands to a sextet or septet on several tracks. Owen Dawson’s trombone, Aubin Vanns’ guitar and Nick Malcolm’s trumpet fill out the sound beautifully and allow Anderson to broaden his compositional scope.
All get their chance to shine and Malcolm, in particular, contributes a couple of scene-stealing solos. The quartet pieces are equally well-realised, and feature plenty of the leader’s unhurriedly stylish saxophone playing, occupying a territory somewhere between Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner. He can deliver an ear-catching tenor sax flourish, but knows the value of understatement and uses it well. Overall, the sound he explores here is the modern mainstream, all-acoustic music, devoid of any treated sounds or urban beats. This is solidly-crafted small group jazz that knows its history, but wears its learning lightly. It holds the attention partly through the flawless integration of all the elements making up the group sound, partly through the uniformly excellent playing inspired by the leader’s compositions.