CD review

Tim Garland – “ReFocus”

Tim Garland – ReFocus
(Edition Records EDN1159. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

Is it still worth buying CDs or vinyl when so much music is available on Spotify and other streaming services? Tim Garland’s ReFocus, inspired by the Stan Getz with strings album Focus from nearly sixty years earlier, gives several reasons for us to say ‘yes’.

First, Garland’s a generous communicator in words as well as music, and his sleeve notes printed on the CD gatefold give lots of insights into the music that even the most finely tuned ears couldn’t detect. Then tucked inside the gatefold itself, easy to miss, are a second set of sleeve notes (perhaps the vinyl sleeve notes as a bonus) starting with a request for us to consider ‘an outmoded way of listening: listening to pieces in the order the artist intended’ and observing that ‘vinyl asks this of us’. Indeed it does: no skipping or randomising tracks, playing havoc with the journey the musician wants to take us on.

I’d add a further advantage: the whole ritual of playing vinyl forces us to slow down and savour the music. Compare ‘click URL’ with ‘slit and peel cellophane, inhale aroma of new cardboard, admire artwork, slide out inner sleeve, slide out disc from inner sleeve, put disc on platter, lower tone arm, wait for needle to engage with groove and excitedly wait for first notes to play.’ Then there’s the big picture – literally, a 12-inch square of artwork; and in the case of this album, a further opportunity for nostalgia in that the album cover for ReFocus – a moody backlit silhouette of Garland playing tenor – visually echoes the cover of Getz’s Focus.

That’s all very well, but what about the music? Is it pure nostalgia, nothing more than a longing for the good old days of vinyl and a slavish homage to Getz? Fortunately not, because what would be the point? The opener, I’m Late, I’m Late, is a transcription of the original but it’s the only track that is, all of the others being inspired by musical phrases atypical of Getz’s usual cool bop playing from which Garland extemporises his own distinctive phrasing. He changes the track names as well, for example Her becoming Maternal – touchingly dedicated to Garland’s mother who’d recently died, as had Getz’s.

The arrangements sound more spacious than the original, less ‘soloist with strings’ (as with Focus) and more ‘jazz quartet with strings’. Yuri Goloubev’s double bass and Asaf Sirkis’s drums are often well to the fore, supplemented by piano from Garland, the bell-like sound of crotales from Sirkis, and occasional harp from Lauren Scott.

Also impressive is the fact that Garland added his tenor part over two years after the rest of the music was recorded, in the wing of a stately home where his family was lodging after a house move fell through (one of those lovely details only the sleeve notes could give you). Improvising against a recording with all the musicians absent must be the musician’s equivalent of acting on an empty stage against a green screen – and yet never would you guess because there’s never a sense of Garland’s parts being pasted on.

Everything sounds natural and spontaneous, whatever the mood: lush romanticism on Maternal, Past Light and The Autumn Gate; driving rhythms on Thorn in the Evergreen and Night Flight; spectral soprano sax with sparse pizzicato strings on the opening to Dream State; and a further change of mood on the dancelike Jezeppi, supplemented by Ant Law’s steel-stringed acoustic guitar and John Turville’s piano. It’s a bit cheeky to call Jezeppi a ‘bonus track’ considering the entire album’s only 39 minutes long (another harking back to the days of vinyl?) – but given the quality of the album overall, who’s going to mind?

LINK: Tim Garland’s ReFocus is out now on Edition Records

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