CD review

Mark Lockheart & Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi

Mark Lockheart & Roger Sayer – Salvator Mundi
(Edition Records EDN1132. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

The power of music, to move and transport us in very personal and sometimes surprising directions, only seems to strengthen as the years roll on. Illustrating that boundless phenomenon is transcendental new album Salvator Mundi – a collaboration between one of the UK’s most treasured jazz saxophonists, Mark Lockheart, the organist and director of music at London’s Temple Church, Roger Sayer, and composer/arranger John Ashton Thomas.

Described by Lockheart as something quite different for him (certainly on an alternative plane to the dynamic verve of Duke Ellington, Loose Tubes, Polar Bear, Malija and his own big band writing), the project melds otherworldly soprano or tenor saxophone with the sonorities of the Temple Church’s magnificent four-manual Harrison & Harrison pipe organ. The acoustic freedom and sustained auras of the programme – comprising John Ashton Thomas’s arrangements of church music across the centuries, from Tallis to Stanford, as well as three compositions by Ashton Thomas himself – provide Lockheart with the space to re-present these mostly familiar melodies in new, stained-glass hues; and, of course, the beauty of his improvisational character also finds a home around the Temple’s circular roof spaces.

Indeed, the lofty, echoic tranquillity of Lockheart’s predominant soprano voice may draw parallels with the ECM recordings of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble. But Sayer’s knowledge of these works, and his deft sensitivity across keys and pedal board, anchor the sound in the tradition of English church music, from delicate detailing in the Swell Organ to the crescendoing grandeur of the Great – and the timbres from both instrumentalists are entirely complementary. Especially serene at a late hour, there is nothing jarring or sensational about these reinterpretations, but they glow radiantly in their alternative colours. The polyphony of Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via is exchanged for plaintive solo soprano, sustained softly by Sayer’s chameleon-like registrations; and the choral emotion of John Blow’s Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World), occasionally redolent of a Barbara Thompson / Jon Hiseman TV theme, is sumptuously reimagined.

The 16th century is represented by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. Tallis’s Third Tune for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter (known to many through Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia) is portrayed in prog-like mystery, its tenor line building against full-organ intensity, with the Sixth Tune more transparent as soprano flutters amongst higher organ ostinati. The quiet reverence of Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus is supported exquisitely, and Lockheart’s fluid improvisational lines in Dido’s Lament (from Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas) feel so organic, emotively expressing the phrase (beloved by Sir Michael Tippett) “Re-MEM-ber me”. Similarly, traditional carol In Dulci Jubilo awakens to expressive, falling motifs which are reminiscent of John Surman, albeit on soprano. And a final word for John Ashton Thomas’s two elegant Temple Hymns, the first of which is particularly affecting in its warmth, as is his prayerful, affirming The Garden, where Sayer’s sustained rise and fall is embellished by Lockheart’s heavenly improvisations.

A quotation from Henry Peacham’s 17th century publication ‘The Compleat Gentleman’ runs: “For motets and music of piety and devotion… I prefer above all our Phoenix Mr William Byrd, who in that kind I know not whether any may equal.” As a collective of 21st century interpreters, I would like to propose Messrs Lockheart, Sayer and Ashton Thomas.

Salvator Mundi is released on Friday 5 July 2019

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