Album reviews

Alex Western-King – ‘SideSlip’

Alex Western-King – SideSlip
(Ubuntu Music UBU0086. Album review by Alison Bentley)

How to combine your love of both bebop and free jazz? UK saxophonist Alex Western-King leads a talented young band in their debut recording. “This album is a snapshot of one year of my life, documenting my growth out of a dark place and into the light,” he says in the liner notes, and the music has an emotive, personal quality that contrasts and unites his stylistic influences.

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The tunes are all Western-King’s. Some, like the easy swing of Make Way, have the appeal of standards on the tip of your tongue, played as if he might have lyrics running through his head. The sax tone is both old and modern, like Joe Lovano, rich but with scratchy high squeals. Sam Leak’s piano is boppy, bending the beat round the strong bass pulse (Jonny Wickham.) In total contrast, Disorder Reordered has a skipping precipitous head. The drums solo tunefully (Jay Davis) as the bass takes up the stop-start form. Into headlong swing, and the piano solo is brim-full of ideas. Western-King solos over a dark Latin riff, mixing big band precision with free squalls. That takes us to a Dark Space, where the unsettling notes of the bass solo create tension against the warm, wide sax vibrato. A loosely Latin ballad develops, as dark chords open into wider spaces. Inner Eye has the introspective, nostalgic feel of Dexter Gordon’s ballads with Herbie Hancock in the film Round Midnight. As the cymbals cascade, every note of the sax is beautifully-articulated.

Trumpeter James Copus joins them for SideSlip. It’s influenced by Monk’s spiky harmonies, but fizzes like a Woody Shaw tune. The discordant head harmonies zip into speedy swing, Copus leaping from powerful bop into high yelps. Western-King has a Brecker-ish intensity as he plays free-form sounds within bop shapes. The band really go for it but there’s always tremendous musical discipline. The good-humoured, relaxed swing of Toe the Line lets you down gently before the helter-skelter abandon of The Long Road, with its twisty theme. Sax and drums duet powerfully till the bass kicks in with the full-on swing, a little like Coltrane’s Impressions.

This is an album with composition and playing deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, but saying its own thing. The thoughtful arrangements are beautifully balanced with the free-ness of the soloing, and it’s a pleasure to listen to.

LINKS: Feature about SideSlip by John Bungey

Alex Western King Artist Page at Ubuntu Music

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