Ivo Neame – Glimpses Of Truth
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4782. CD review by Mark McKergow)
British pianist and composer Ivo Neame reveals another side to his talents in this, the first CD to feature his compositions for large ensemble. A stellar international cast has assembled (virtually) in this lockdown-enabled collaboration which really picks at the boundaries of written music and improvisation.
Widely recognised for his contributions to the trio Phronesis and the Marius Neset Quintet, Ivo Neame is a very thoughtful and flexible pianist who is unafraid of challenging the norm and expressing himself in joining with other excellent musicians to create something special. Glimpses Of Truth was created in June 2020 when the world was in the grip of COVID and live work for musicians had dried up completely. Rather than bemoan his luck, Neame grasped the opportunity to engage colleagues from around the world to record themselves for his large group project.
The press release describes it as a ‘big band’, but I think that misses the point – not only is the line-up quite a long way from the norm (two drummers and multi-tracked saxophones, for example), the tonal palette achieved on these tracks is far greater than might be conveyed by thoughts of ranks of tuxedoed swingers. The seven tunes are complex and shifting, evolving as the minutes fly by, solos pop up and then dissolve, backing riffs drift past as if on a rhythmic river, with Neame’s piano playing a key role in pinning it all together.
The Rise Of The Lizard People opens with a lopsided rhythm, rippling piano and squalling saxophones with Jason Yarde’s baritone quickly coming to prominence. The two drummer line-up works very well indeed, with James Maddren (my drummer of 2021) and Jon Scott sharing precise work with Tom Farmer on bass. Nathaniel Facey’s alto saxophone gets a good feature, capturing the restlessness in his performance. The tune concludes with epic brass chords, which it’s hard to believe were recorded by players thousands of miles apart.
Strega, a real stand-out tune here, brings brass solos to the fore. Ingrid Jensen leads out on trumpet, before a written middle section gives way to a beautiful flugelhorn solo from Noel Langley. One distinctive feature of this album is that Neame recorded all the tutti sax lines by multi-tracking himself, which results in very tight and precise phrasing popping up. Broken Brains starts at a more measured pace, Gareth Lockrane’s flute setting the tone before a sweeping tenor saxophone solo by George Crowley.
Phasing Song has a touch of Steve Reich about it with phrases dropping in and out, reappearing at different beats and lots of counterpoint for the horns. Gilad Hekselman does a fine job of taking his guitar solo over these shifting rhythmic sands, sailing along before Neame takes over on piano and moves the music into a lower, slower gear for a reflective conclusion.
Perseverance Parts 1 and 2 are highlights, with a closely written textural opening dropping Neame into a glorious piano solo with (relatively) simple and effective rhythm accompaniment. Part 2 lets Jim Hart come to the front on vibes for an extended solo, where he also negotiates complex and shifting music including a vibes/piano/bass section of three-over-four which surely requires all concerned to pat their heads and rub their tummies simultaneously. Ghostly Figure evokes its titular image very well, with synthy backing, brass and some evocative trombone by Trevor Mires.
Glimpses Of Truth features some of the most engaging jazz you’ll hear this year, with plenty to enjoy on repeated listening and a wealth of talent all coming together in pursuit of Ivo Neame’s musical vision. Neame also mixed the recording, that being another part of his lockdown learning. The album is packed with musical richness and surprise, belying the distance in space and time between the musicians. An object lesson in making the most of what you have to stretch the boundaries and do something new.