Benn Clatworthy – The Pursuit(Self-Release BCQCD101. CD review by Paul Pace)
London-born but based on the US west coast with an impressive stateside track record including playing with the great Horace Silver, performances with Billy Higgins, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Temptations, saxophonist Benn Clatworthy would often be booked for the support slots with his quartet at Ronnie Scott’s from the mid-90s to the early 2000s. The Pursuit with its mission statement ‘A Quest for Beauty’ is a fine snapshot of his regular UK touring quartet featuring Benn on tenor sax and flute plus UK top-line players: pianist John Donaldson, bassist Simon Thorpe and Northern Irish drummer by way of New York (he lived there for 21 years) Darren Beckett.
There is much to savour and enjoy on this solid jazz offering.
The Pursuit – A five-note motif statement by Benn’s tenor sax answered by a two chord vamp by the rhythm section. The tenor tone is pleading and vocalised with a light touch displayed within the first solo of the album – the feathering of the notes is reminiscent of Archie Shepp’s approach on the instrument. Running through the changes of what appears to be a contrafact of Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation in a shortened form, the quartet swings its tail off. Steaming piano from Donaldson on this fast hard bop number makes for an exciting solo combined with the fierce underpinning of Thorpe and Beckett make this number an apt opener.
Ugly Beauty – Flipping the clichéd bandleader introduction of ‘now we are about to play you a beautiful ballad’, the breathy Clatworthy’s tenor playing brings forth the aching loveliness of this Thelonious Monk ballad. The well-honed solos kept this listener engaged.
Just Another Addiction – A ‘walking blues’ head that Dexter Gordon might have written, where the funkiness of Donaldson’s solo precedes tenor sax explorations and note scrunching before the band restates the theme.
This One’s For Celia – A stark haunting melody etched on flute pervades this understated ballad that provides an opportunity for poignant contemplation.
Space 22 – An uptempo walking bass and drums interlock and underpin the bebop line played by sax and piano. The piano cut away to afford more harmonic possibilities for a freer workout for the sax trio before re-entering. An eloquently expressive bass solo, punctuated by sporadic cymbal splashes followed by an extensive workout on toms, is presented within a rubato interlude before the tempo is picked up again for the finish.
Louisa’s Song – Melancholic impressionism as the tenor sax treads carefully on lush piano chords and percussive shadings in this reflective ballad.
Bolivian Odyssey – Seemingly based on the chords of standard What is This Thing Called Love, this uptempo romp features Clatworthy flying effortlessly over the shifting rhythmic backgrounds, as does Donaldson in his powerful solo. A snare-focussed drum break from Beckett provides the penultimate pre-out chorus thrill.
My Little Brown Book – Romanticism from a little-performed Billy Strayhorn song – a rare delight that feels classic and brings this exceptional album to a memorable finish.
LINK: Benn Clatworthy’s website