Iain Ballamy, Ian Shaw, Jamie Safir – What’s New?
(Silent Wish Records – SWRCD1. CD Review by Graham Spry)
The methodical record collectors among us will want to file What’s New? on their shelves under the name of singer Ian Shaw. That might be understandable, forgivable, and maybe even inevitable. But, in reality, this latest album on which he sings is first and foremost the work of a trio. More than most collaborations featuring a vocalist, repeated listening confirms that is a showcase for the talents of not just one but of three outstanding musicians, and they are all on superb form.
Iain Ballamy, who plays tenor saxophone, is most often associated these days with his albums on ECM Records as co-leader of Food with Thomas Strønen and as one-third of Quercus, but his performance history goes back to a time when he was a regular fixture at Ronnie Scott’s where he frequently performed with Shaw. Jamie Safir also has close ties with Ronnie Scott’s where he is currently a much in-demand pianist, having played with the likes of Will Young, Kurt Elling and Liane Carroll. Ian Shaw continues to be a frequent and welcome presence at Ronnie Scott’s where he has performed with Cedar Walton, and whose material includes his own songs and covers of songs composed by Joni Mitchell and Rogers & Hart.
In fact, Ronnie Scott is very much a unifying presence on an album which showcases a collection of the kind of perennial standards that Ronnie Scott would approve, along with the song arrangements and above all the sincerity of the trio’s performance. As Shaw says, this is “one of the truest records I have ever recorded”. Certainly, his singing brings to life the nuances and deeper meanings of songs that risk being lost by virtue of their familiarity.
The album consists of great classics such as It Might As Well Be Spring, Some Other Time, You Stepped Out Of A Dream and If You Never Came To Me. There are two songs by Burt Bacharach: Alfie and You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart). Perhaps one of the least familiar songs is the title track, What’s New?, which was originally sung by Bing Crosby. Proof that Ballamy and Safir are co-equal to Shaw on this session is that one of the two featured compositions by Duke Ellington, Come Sunday, is an instrumental duet of piano and soprano sax.
The album was recorded in Cooper Hall, Frome: a Somerset town which can lay claim to being a major source of contemporary English jazz creativity (a point well made in this LJN article) . It is a perfectly engineered session in which most songs were recorded in only one or two takes. But what most distinguishes this album is the emotional sincerity expressed not just in Shaw’s heartfelt vocals but also Ballamy’s gorgeous saxophone and the expert way Safir’s piano both supports and embellishes the other two musicians.
‘We Stopped Talking’ from this album is a charity single by Ian Shaw and Jamie Safir. It is a new song – a letter to love, community and diversity – inspired by Robert Elms’ critically praised book, London Made Us, to raise much needed funds in these uncertain times for the hugely compromised homeless, rough sleepers and vulnerable refugees. Ian’s co-writer is Jamie Safir, who produced the song and edited the video.
Categories: CD review