CD review

John Rae Trio – “Where The Wild Clematis Grow”

John Rae Trio – Where The Wild Clematis Grow (UK release 30 October)
(Thick Records. Download & ‘weasel’. Review by Fiona Mactaggart)

Scotland-born drummer John Rae is nowadays a New Zealand citizen, and his stunning new digital album Where The Wild Clematis Grow, to be launched in the UK on 30 October by his own label Thick Records, is a true New Zealand/ Scotland collaboration.

Named after a poem about New Zealanders returning from active service in the Great War, the music was commissioned by the New Zealand government as part of WW100 commemorations for the centenary of that war. Recorded in Scotland and mixed and mastered in New Zealand, with live debuts in Edinburgh and Wellington Jazz Festivals in 2018, even the band membership is an international affair.

Over the years, Rae has appeared as sideman or leader on over 70 albums, frequently collaborating with esteemed Scottish pianist Brian Kellock (John Rae Collective, Brian Kellock Trio) who joins him again now on Where The Wild Clematis Grow. The third member of the present trio is accomplished Kiwi bassist Patrick Bleakley who plays in another of Rae’s bands The Troubles and has also played in bands such as Blerta and Jonathan Crayford’s Jazz Trio.

The album kicks off with the title track, penned by Rae. A lulling piano opening from Kellock, with delicate melody and initially tentative harmonising is supported by Rae’s equally pensive drums. Almost halfway in, Kellock ejects some short and sharp abstractions prompting some wonderfully woozy bass from Bleakley.

The second piece, late great clarinettist Artie Shaw’s rightly influential Nightmare, continues in confidently unhurried vein, with lyrically dandering piano and strolling bass underneath, before a brief quickening just fades away.

Any melancholy is however instantly dissipated by Rae’s composition We’ll Never Meet Again, an unsentimental but simply gorgeous response to the 1939 We’ll Meet Again made famous by Vera Lynn. Any remaining dolour is put to rout by the following tune, Quirino Mendoza y Cortés’ Canta Y No Llores (better known as Cielito Lindo). The extreme Latin grooviness from drum and bass somehow fails to throw Kellock’s melodic line off-kilter, as he replies with a sparky piano extrapolation. Probably one of the most exuberant versions of this tune that you are ever likely to hear.

Penultimate track 5th Avenue is a bass solo, composed and played by Bleakely: a cease-fire zone prior to the crackling grand finale, Wild Clematis. At almost 20 minutes this is by far the longest track on the album. Composed by Rae, the trio’s level of cohesion and mutual understanding and the level of abstraction right from the start make it hard to know which parts might be improvised. Kellock’s soaring excursions into ever more outré territory, with Rae’s equally inventive shifting tempos and use of all parts of his kit make this an exhilarating listen.

This is a first-rate album of music which has deep jazz roots but also has a particularly free, modern sound. It is a jazz highlight of the year for this listener who hopes that not too much time will pass before Rae’s next such release.

Where The Wild Clematis Grow is launched in the UK on 30 October 2020, available from Thick Records on download and 2GB USB ‘weasel’.

Thick Records is simultaneously launching two other releases in which John Rae features: Rae’s Uncouth and Without Form / Brian Kellock Trio’s Think About It! (REVIEW)

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