CD review

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft – Play Monk & Trane

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft – Play Monk & Trane
(Ubuntu UBU0029. CD Review by Peter Jones)

In some ways it’s a slightly unexpected pairing – well-established tenor bopster Dave O’Higgins with left-field young Turk guitarist Rob Luft, but that is probably why it works so well. Luft’s thrilling soundscapes and runs are set against O’Higgins’s slick, melodic improvisations from the off, with Coltrane’s lovely Naima played à deux. On the second cut, Jackie McLean’s bop tune Little Melonae, they are joined by Scott Flanagan (organ) and Rod Youngs (drums). Flanagan is a new discovery to audiences on this side of the Irish Sea, his chops on the organ every bit as hip as those of London regulars like Ross Stanley and Pete Whittaker. Youngs, on the other hand, is well-known and in great demand thanks to his effortless class at the traps.

This terrific album contains many lesser-known tunes played by Monk and Trane over the years. Locomotive, for instance, a contemplative, mid-tempo swinger is an unexpected pleasure. How could I not have heard this before? There are two versions on the album – one featuring the full band, then – at the end – another brief duo rendition, with Luft on acoustic guitar.

They have given themselves a wide brief, in that they don’t limit themselves to tunes composed by Monk and Trane: anything recorded by either is fair game, so there are four cuts that simply feature somewhere in their respective histories. One of these, Minor Mishap, with another great swinging melody, was written by pianist Tommy Flanagan and recorded in 1957 for his sextet album The Cats, on which Coltrane was just a member of the band (not a bad sideman to have on your album). The lush I’ll Wait and Pray is a ballad written by George Treadwell and Jerry Valentine and recorded by Trane in 1959 for his album Coltrane Jazz. On the other hand, Monk’s Trinkle-Tinkle, with its challenging bop head, is slightly more familiar territory. His most famous tune of all, Round Midnight, is presented as another acoustic duo piece, straight through, no solos. The Luft/O’Higgins version of Spring is Here, usually rendered as a melancholy ballad in vocal form, is more like the 1958-recorded Coltrane upswing recording, but arranged by O’Higgins in a faster style he feels Trane might have used in the mid-’60s.

While the chops of neither O’Higgins nor Luft are in doubt, if you’re still not acquainted with Luft and need convincing, I recommend you check out his dazzling solo on Coltrane’s Like Sonny, which bears comparison with any jazz guitar solo you’ve heard.

The quartet are reaching the end of a lengthy UK tour, with dates at The Musician, Leicester (21 November), Mad Hatter, Oxford (26 November), 606, Chelsea (7 December), Norwich Jazz Club (10 December) and Jazz Hastings (17 December).

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