Allison Neale – Quietly There (Ubuntu Music – UBU0062. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
A release to make the heart leap, alto saxophonist Allison Neale’s Quietly There summons so many early jazz memories, especially the soft, balmy tone of Paul Desmond and the mellifluous (tenor) phrasing of Stan Getz.
Seattle-born Neale’s approach to this collection – many of which are Great American Songbook tunes she has wished to record for some time – can undoubtedly be catalogued as ‘West Coast’ in style; but don’t let a cursory listen simply tag this album ‘#cool, #dinnerjazz’. Together with acclaimed New York electric guitarist Peter Bernstein, and also double bassist Dave Green and drummer Steve Brown (how’s that for a classy London/Manchester rhythm section?), this quartet delivers an hour-plus of both elegance and verve, fronted by Allison’s almost vocal fluidity and a luscious vibrato.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s Darn That Dream is the perfect vehicle to kindle that warmly glowing sax personality, already with a hint of Desmond in the improv (particularly a sweet descent redolent of ‘Strange Meadowlark’); and Bernstein subtly underpins Midnight Sun (Hampton/Burke) with delicate chordal chromatics and clashes, as well as his typically graceful soloing. Title-track bossa nova Quietly There (Johnny Mandel) also benefits from the quartet’s gossamer sound, while their treatment of Dorsey/Madeira treasure I’m Glad There Is You equals Natalie Cole’s vocal/orchestral version for finesse and warm-heartedness. Spring is Here (Rodgers & Hart) and Lollipops and Roses (Tony Velona), too, are exquisitely balanced – there’s something so carefree and cheering about Neale’s huskier, higher register.
Among these eleven numbers are also temperately vivacious gems such as Jimmy Raney’s Motion and Horace Silver’s Split Kick, deftly driven by Dave Green’s quiet authority and the beaming geniality of Steve Brown (always a pleasure to watch their collaboration on the bandstand). Neale is central, with her effortless, tumbling creativity – but it’s the seamless dialogue between the four that’s key. Another sparkler is John Lewis’s 2 Degrees East 3 Degrees West, Green’s bluesy suppleness paving the way for an irresistible groove maintained by Brown’s chameleonic invention at the kit; and it’s unabashed joy all the way in Cole Porter’s sunny You Do Something To Me as Neale and Bernstein josh together.
This attractive, live quartet sound is a reminder – if, indeed, it were needed – that organisers up and down the land are aching to again present beautifully intimate performances such as this to appreciative audiences (imagine the late-night sax-and-guitar ‘encore’ I Should Care in that setting). Focus on the detail, the lyricism, the interplay… and this recording might, virtually, ‘find us a seat there’.