Matt Ridley – The Antidote
(Ubuntu Music UBU0068. CD review by Graham Spry)
Familiar to jazz enthusiasts for having played double bass with many of the country’s best ensembles, it’s also probably fair to say that bassist Matt Ridley must be one of the most dapper musicians in British jazz (as can be seen in the sleeve photo by Monika S Jukubowska) as well as being a very serious and talented composer. His first album, Thymos, demonstrated his proficiency in a wide range of styles; perhaps too many for a single album.
It was always going to be of interest which of these styles he would choose for his next album, Mettã, which as it happened was more in the tradition of the chamber jazz quartet, perhaps reflecting his training on classical double bass. However, in recent interviews Ridley announced that, inspired by listening to the electric guitar of band member Ant Law, his latest album, The Antidote, is more inclined towards rock music and he mentioned the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as influences.
Nevertheless, although the rock element is most evident on those occasions when the guitar and drums propel the music forward, The Antidote is scarcely a jazz rock album in the 1970s tradition of focusing on riffs and licks. It is at times evocative of contemporaneous recordings on ECM by Terje Rypdal and Miroslav Vitouš by also presenting a highly listenable melding of electric instruments and elegant composition.
As on Mettã, the compositions are complex and tuneful, but in this case with more sense of urgency. This is alluded to in the album’s sleeve-notes where Ridley muses on the environmental and epidemiological perils our world currently faces, complicated by a conservative establishment here and abroad radicalised by disinformation and mendacity. One doesn’t have to share Ridley’s views to believe that the world is a troubled place and that music can be, as the album title suggests, the antidote for a beleaguered humanity.
Ridley has gathered together a formidable array of talent for this album. As well as Ant Law, there is rising star Alex Hitchcock on various saxophones, Tom Hewson on piano and keyboards and Marc Michel on drums. The group are a very tight ensemble where the solos, including those by Ridley, are never overbearing.
The first half of the album features four stand-alone compositions that allow the five musicians space for development, interplay and improvisation, including Yardeville, which is surely a tribute to Jason Yarde, with whom Ridley has performed on many occasions.
After a reflective version of Infant Eyes by Wayne Shorter (the only composition not by Ridley), the second half of the album is a twenty three minute suite in four parts, one part of which namechecks the Netflix series Stranger Things, which perhaps shares with Ridley’s music a sense of impending doom beneath a deceptively tranquil surface.
This is Ridley’s first album on Ubuntu Music which in a short period of time has gathered together an impressive roster of artists to become one of the leading record labels showcasing British jazz. Ridley was fortunate enough to have recorded the album in October 2019 before the restrictions on social contact, but the need for contemporary jazz music that actively engages with the issues of our time are probably even greater now than at the time of recording.