Album reviews

Luke Bainbridge – ‘Surface Tension’

Luke Bainbridge – Surface Tension

(Self-released/Bandcamp link below – Album review by Peter Slavid)

Surface Tension is really more of a project than a band. It was originally put together as a quintet to play drummer Luke Bainbridge‘s compositions in a group which at the time was made up with piano, guitar, bass and sax. Lockdown forced a rethink as has so often been the case. With a new line-up of musicians who lived locally, and were able to rehearse safely outdoors at distance, the new Surface Tension emerged. Using the same original compositions, the new band was finally able to record this album last October.

I didn’t get to see the first incarnation of the band, but judging by their YouTube posts this sounds very different. There’s no doubt that the unusual front line of trombone and vibes adds a number of interesting sounds and colours to the music, but what characterises all the tracks is the complex and shifting approach to rhythm that comes from Bainbridge’s intricate compositions.

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Bainbridge won the 2018 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and completed his Masters in Jazz Performance at the Royal Academy of Music in 2020.

He has gathered a fine quartet together, including artists who may live locally but originate from various parts of the UK. Trombonist Kieran McLeod is a bandleader in his own right and his sound is a familiar sound in various bands, heard most recently with The Young Pilgrims. Ralph Wyld on vibes is a fellow Dankworth Prize winner and a Kenny Wheeler Prize Winner as well, who keeps busy as part of Yazz Ahmed’s fine quartet amongst others. Bassist Huw V Williams released his own album earlier this year.

It’s a fairly short album of 35 minutes with just five extended tracks.

The opening track is U-Turn, and they have released a (masked up) video of this track on YouTube (below). After a short introduction it opens with a melody and then improvisation from trombone with interjections from the vibes. Then halfway through the vibes take over with a powerful solo eventually rejoined by the trombone. Throughout the track the rhythms stop and change and the bass and drums keep up a shuffling pulse that drives the music forward without intruding.

The second track starts more lyrically, but then includes an improvised section.

The rest of the album continues in a similar vein with with the interesting compositions delivering constantly shifting rhythms, clever improvisations and intricate interactions between the four instruments.

Hopefully the band will be able to stay together in this configuration so that we can get to see them live as part of their album launch activity in October.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations

LINK: Surface Tension on Bandcamp

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