CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Nick Malcolm – Real Isn’t Real

Nick Malcolm – Real Isn’t Real
(Green Eyes Records GE 002 CD Review by Jon Turney)

Trumpeter Nick Malcolm has a long working relationship with his in-demand quartet mates pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Olie Brice. Together with new recruit Ric Yarborough on drums, they are an exemplary contemporary unit. All four enjoy moving seamlessly between conventionally harmonised and freer playing as the mood and the music takes them, each enhancing the other.

This third quartet CD from Malcolm confirms them as a band that does this with rare skill and commitment. But it has ambitions beyond that. It offers a many-hued suite, in which Malcolm fashions musical settings for four contrasting voices. They are framed by five pieces – called Spirals – for the quartet.

The songs are as different as the singers. After the first Spiral, Emily Wright offers limpid jazz precision on Floating Earth. Marie Lister digs deep into soul and R’n’B on Silent Grace. Josienne Clarke is pure folk on Grass Remembers, which sets a Yeats lyric rather than Malcom’s own. And the always adventurous Lauren Kinsella cuts loose, improvisationally, on the title track.

Each singer benefits from a perfectly crafted backdrop, Lister for example getting electrified accompaniment from Hawkins and guest Will Harris on electric bass, Clarke accompanied by Hawkins alone on organ. Back to back, these vocal efforts would be a curious assemblage, but the instrumental items in between them explore their differences in a way that, oddly perhaps, brings them closer together. The quartet reflects on each one, sometimes picking up elements of the melody, sometimes, it seems, just responding to the feeling of the song. The Spirals are equally varied, and allow all four players to shine. Brice is deep-toned and assertive, Hawkins sparkles throughout, Malcolm is fluently inventive and indulges his fondness for unusually large intervals, Yarborough provides intricate support.

Their method is well-displayed on Spiral IV – Blues, a set highlight that segues from Clarke’s vocal. Brice plants a simple bass figure against a spoken reprise of the lyric, Malcolm deepens the mood with a keening series of statements reminiscent of some of Avishai Cohen’s recent work, alluding to the blues rather than giving over to it entirely, Hawkins converses with him, then scampers off into an exuberant solo in which bluesy gestures can be glimpsed briefly amid the scurry and flurry of free keyboard style.

Then, after Kinsella’s piece, the final track is a carefully layered affair that references all that has gone before. There’s more obvious studio work here, with multi-tracked vocals and some light use of electronics, but still in the service of a free spirit. As it builds gently over ten minutes, then fades, the listener realises this is an album whose full artistic scope only becomes clear right at the end, if you do the old fashioned thing and listen through in the right order. I did, and it works.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney

Nick Malcolm is currently touring his new Jade quartet (with Jake McMurchie, tenor, Will Harris, bass and Ric Yarborough, drums):

27 February – Cardiff: The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX

3 March – Bristo: Cafe Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU

5 March – Cambridge: Listen! at Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge CB1 1JW

7 March – Newcastle: The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD

8 March – Derby: Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU 

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