Five-Way Split – All The Way
(Ubuntu music UBU129 . Review by Len Weinreich)
Around the time Brits were crowding the dance floor, jiving to the revival of New Orleans’ jazz, young Afro-American musicians in the U.S., led by trailblazers Art Blakey and Horace Silver, were forging an uncompromising new sound marked by urgency and aggression. This was Hard Bop, born out of mid-20th century U.S. Black experience, ghetto life, blatant injustice, police brutality and race riots. Hard Bop soon became the lifeblood of Albert Lion and Francis Wolff’s legendary Blue Note label and, through its ability aurally to conjure mean streets, car chases and gun battles, the preferred soundtrack of countless hardboiled TV crime dramas. Today, original Blue Note Hard Bop vinyl albums change hands for humungous amounts of bucks. Think big. No scratches? Think in thousands.
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Five-Way Split is a British-based quintet assembled on the premise that not only does the Hard Bop style remains resilient and relevant, but it’s also ripe for revival. Track 1 is Out Of Wayne’s Bag, a tribute to the late Wayne Shorter written by saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos with a suitably jagged theme crisply played by a well-rehearsed ensemble. Quentin Collins blows a fluent trumpet statement, handing over to the composer’s urgent tenor and Rob Barron proves he is no mean piano player. Trumpeter Collins wrote the next song, Lingua Franca and though its complicated meter might lack the trade mark in-your-face assault of the original Hard Boppers, it compensates with a flowing lyricism. However, excitement builds when drummer Matt Home and Xenopoulos’ tenor get to swapping phrases vigorously towards the end. Quentin Collins wrote the beguiling Mr Birthday Waltz with extended solo space for Matyas Hofecker’s double bass. Meanwhile, Xenopoulos switches pitch to soprano for a handsome interlude in triple time. On the album’s title track, Jimmy Van Heusen’s All The Way, the ensemble attacks the standard with an angular sharp-cornered approach over a dark piano vamp before Xenopoulos blazes away on tenor, well supported by the rhythm section followed by Barron shaping intriguing figures on the treble end of the keyboard.
The theme of Asymphonatic (a title almost contrived to irritate my spellcheck) by Quentin Collins has asymmetrical accents that would reduce lesser musicians to quivering blancmange. Matt Home’s drums introduce Rob Barron’s up-tempo Evidently, a steeplechase for all the soloists with some tricky ensemble work tidily executed. Quentin Collins mellow trumpet introduces Fred Lacey’s gentle Theme for Ernie, a tender melody from a troubled time, with sensitive contributions from everyone, notably Barron and elegant bass work from Hofecker.
Xenopoulos’ San Sebastian, a stirring and jagged theme, could be inspired either by the saint or the Basque seaside town celebrated for gastronomy. Whatever, he helps himself to a hefty portion of tenor solo before handing over the Collins who eats up the changes. Barron and Home serve the tasty dessert. To my ears, Flattening The Curve by Collins leans more to regular bebop than Hard Bop, but who’s complaining? Good solos and bags of energy all round.
Five-Way Split has been well served by recording engineer Darren Williams, mixing engineer Andrew Tulloch and mastering engineer Peter Beckmann because the CD sound is excellent. Altogether, an exceptionally professional attempt at revival. Let’s hope it meets with the success it deserves.
Quentin Collins, trumpet; Vasilis Xenopoulos, tenor saxophone; Rob Barron, piano; Matyas Hofecker, double bass; Matt Home, drums. Recorded at Livingston Studios, London, 27 October, 2021.