Alison Rayner Quintet – Short Stories
(ARQ Records. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)
Bassist and bandleader Alison Rayner has described her music in a recent interview with LJN as “melodic, with a cinematic, narrative feel…lots of textures and colour. I’m really into grooves and like to mix great tunes with rhythmic interplay. But most importantly, I want people to connect emotionally to the music and I put a lot of myself and genuine experience into it and I hope this comes across in the sound”. On this new album, where three of the eight selections are poignant epitaphs commemorating late friends and relations, she reveals a remarkable talent for absorbing grief and observing monumental vistas to re-express them as elegiac compositions.
The loping rhythms of her opening piece, Croajingolong Bush Walk, clearly invoke a hike through the rugged terrain of the Aussie outback. The oppressive heat and voracious insects are palpable, atmospherically described with didgeridoo guitar and drum figures plus Diane McLoughlin’s tenor and Steve Lodder’s piano. Here And Now, Rayner’s sometimes moody, sometimes optimistic, composition, deals with seizing the present, characterised by thoughtful, nimble interplay between Deirdre Cartwright’s guitar and Rayner’s bass. There Is A Crack in Everything is 50% of a Leonard Cohen quote. The other half, “that’s how the light gets in” refers to Alison’s late niece Pippa Handley who pursued her version of the light of Scottish hills and lochs. McLoughlin adjusts her soprano embouchure to produce an austere oboe sound redolent of coarse gorse, heather and cool light (note to an aspiring TV producer: highly appropriate supporting music for anything Caledonian). In composer Diane McLoughlin’s words, Buster Breaks A Beat, “I wrote this piece to feature Buster (Birch), experimenting with broken beats, funk and retro dance music”. Listen to the intriguing triple sparring bout between bass, piano and guitar and how the music evolves from Stan Getz to free. Steve Lodder is especially impressive.
A Braw Boy is another tribute to one of Rayner’s lost Scots, Craig Handley, who worked at sea and left a legacy of evocative seascape photographs. The composition draws on Celtic pentatonic folk roots, conjuring turbulent waves, limitless horizons and chill winds (aided by stirring contributions from soprano and guitar). Cartwright’s Life Lived Wide, remembering her friend Debbie Dickinson, is underscored by the leader’s supple bass playing, (Alison’s comment in London Jazz News interview: “I’ve always been inspired by Charlie Haden’s playing and his ability to convey so much in just a few notes”) a powerful presence throughout the album. Mercurial moods shift from melancholia to bubbly, festive rhythms. Colloquy by Rayner is introduced by piano over latin beat, joined by Cartwright and McLoughlin in unison and blossoms into quirky conversation among the three lead instruments (plus with a beseeching guitar solo). Finally, Seeing Around Corners, a ruminative meditation on peering into the future, written by pianist Steve Lodder, has an attractively bluesy tinge, all faithfully captured by recording engineer Chris Lewis.
Even though this album concerns itself weightily about loss, it’s more uplifting than depressing and its thoughtfulness rewards closest study.