Neil Swainson Quintet – 49th Parallel
(Reel to Real Vinyl: RTRLP004, CD: RTRCD004, and Digital. Album review by Adam Sieff)
49th Parallel was Neil Swainson’s only recording as a leader during a fine career as a highly respected and accomplished bassist that included a long association with George Shearing. The album, recorded in Toronto in May 1987, was first released in 1989 on Concord Jazz and is now receiving a new release including a limited edition vinyl pressing for Record Store Day 2020.
Swainson had only moved east from Vancouver a couple of years before this album was recorded, and for the sessions chose his fellow Toronto jazz musicians, pianist Gary Williamson and drummer Jerry Fuller, alongside the starry frontline of trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. One significant point of interest is that the session turned out to be Shaw’s last studio recording. Swainson, Williamson and Fuller had all previously played together with Shaw. Henderson was the ‘wild card’ having only previously worked with Shaw, never with Swainson or the others.
By this time, Shaw’s eyesight had diminished so badly due to retinitis pigmentosa that he couldn’t read music, so Swainson showed Shaw each tune to be recorded at the piano before the sessions began. All the repertoire is by Swainson with the exception of Joe Henderson’s Homestretch, first recorded on his album Page One.
The sessions took place on 2 and 3 May 1987 at Studio 306 in Toronto, the first day without Henderson, who had evidently arrived in town late that day (and looking for something to eat) and only made the following day’s session. He also missed a warm up gig planned for the evening of 1 May at the BamBoo Club.
This meant that the first day’s recording became a quartet session. Swainson’s double bass is solid and tasteful, leading from the front and locked in with Fuller. Shaw and Williamson solo with melody and depth on the latin Port of Spain and the more uptempo On The Lam. It’s particularly poignant to hear Shaw playing so well, knowing that this was to be his last studio session and that he would be gone at only 44 two years later.
The second day’s session and the arrival of Joe Henderson’s inventiveness and drive raises the energy level right from his exhilarating opening break on the title track. His long solo in Don’t Hurt Yourself is one of the album’s highlights, it’s a great tune and he brings the most out of it. It’s fair to say that all Swainson’s writing is strong with some fine melodies that linger, with Southern Exposure another album peak. Even the bonus track Labyrinth (available as a download with the vinyl) is a welcome addition, a quartet piece giving Shaw plenty of space to stretch out with an expansive and searching solo.
These sessions combine for one very enjoyable album. It’s good to see this music getting a second chance to connect with an audience, an opportunity it fully deserves.
49th Parallel is already out on vinyl and will be released on CD and for digital download on 11 September 2020.
LINKS: Buy the vinyl now
Categories: CD review