Dee Byrne – Outlines
(Whirlwind Records CD WR 4809. CD review by Jon Turney)
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Alto saxophonist Dee Byrne’s title for this very attractive set apparently refers to drawings she made as a prelude to writing the music the players explore here. The cover art comes from the same source, but doesn’t offer any obvious clues to the sounds. Whatever her process, though, it was impressively fruitful, and underlies one of those contemporary recordings which offer written composition expertly crafted to cradle adventurous improvisation.
The writing is for a superb sextet which has Nick Malcolm’s trumpet and Tom Ward on clarinets joining Byrne to enrich the front line possibilities. Rebecca Nash, piano, Olie Brice, bass, and Andrew Lisle, drums complete the line-up.
The sonority of Ward’s bass clarinet is a key ingredient. It affords variety when Byrne writes parts where two horns play against one, which happens in all the possible combinations, and can also double Brice’s supple bass lines to excellent effect.
The opener, Capsule, is a useful prospectus for the whole set: a unison horn line opens against a repeated bass clarinet figure, leading into a relaxed electric piano solo. The drumming alongside Nash is memorably agitated, the pianist maintaining her orderly train of thought untroubled by the boiling chaos all around, a pleasing contrast. Agitation, in the sense of moving a liquid to allow bubbles to rise, is in fact a good term for Lisle’s drumming in general. Here, it prompts a wilder flight from the clarinet, with the rhythm breaking down, only to coalesce again before a neat written ending.
The other eight tracks go through similarly absorbing shifts, with larger helpings from Byrne, who has a sometimes steely lyricism that allows her to unfurl some of the most compelling alto since the late Mike Osborne’s heyday, Malcolm, enjoying pieces that accommodate his fondness for wide intervals, and Brice, who nowadays has one of the richest bass sounds going. There are free passages, vamps, tender episodes and bursts of exultation, through to The Dance, in which repeated figures from five instruments interweave in a beautifully crafted ballet.
This is an impressively unified project featuring players of growing reputation who know each other well and Byrne deploys her forces with arresting skill. It’s a great lesson in how just a little extra resource can allow a writer to conjure a whole range of effects not available from a regular jazz quartet. Maybe this sextet aren’t quite a mini-big band, but they have a lot of fun trying.
Release Date 30 June