Album reviews

Tenderlonious – ‘You Know I Care’

Tenderlonious – You Know I Care
(22a Music. Album review by AJ Dehany)

You Know I Care is a purist jazz quartet album that encourages you to engage with questions of what tradition and modernism mean when modernism has become tradition. It’s a bold statement of intent from the wickedly talented Tenderlonious aka Ed Cawthorne to specifically showcase his jazz chops, and also to introduce his playing on the alto saxophone.

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He has already shone as a complete artist: perhaps most credited as a “flutes and synths” guy, he is a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, producer, turntablist, 22a Music label boss, and literal explorer whose interest in Indian music led him to record his most recent album Ragas from Lahore on location in one day. He recorded THE SHAKEDOWN featuring The 22archestra at Abbey Road, again in a day. The new album was also recorded in one day, at Crescent Studios— 10 March 2023… a Friday… 

The album is a committed embrace of the modernism of the 1960s paradigm of hard bop and modal directions. There are six selections from some legendary but less familiar sixties Blue Note albums by Jackie McLean, Clifford Jordan, Wayne Shorter and Duke Pearson. It might not be what his background or his band Ruby Rushton might have led you to expect. He says, “With Ruby I’m on synths. We have effects on the horns, it’s a bit more electronic-fused music. With Tenderlonious it’s not that, we’re playing more modal and hard-bop inspired jazz.”

In Black Music in Britain in the Twenty-First Century, Monique Charles says “Some musicians, like flautist Tenderlonious, have expressed frustration at the lumping together of a wide range of musicians and styles into a ‘new London jazz thing’ which erases difference and prioritises only those elements which fit this narrative.” Whether in making a traditional modernist jazz album he’s being deliberately uncool or way cooler than cool, I’m actually glad they haven’t done pointless dismantling, reharmonization or surgery to these tunes. It’s a bold move that places the interest squarely on the band and on the bandleader—so without anywhere to hide, how did they do? 

Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” is a perfect vehicle for “cool modernist” Hamish Balfour with the composition’s tonal ambiguity and multiple key centres, a complex sound that Shorter and Miles regularly employed during that period of jazz history (1966 and all that). There’s an audible gusto in the left hand movement through the changes but the flute is kept simple. This album does share that tasteful slightly mystical atmosphere of the Speak No Evil album. “Poor Eric” is a ballad from Jackie McLean’s 1965 album Right Now! Yep, right then it was right now. Tenderlonious uses more vibrato than Jackie McLean, which I like very much: the very long notes of the theme to “Poor Eric” have more articulation to enjoy, more shape, more swell and growth and decay, subtle pitching with a slight bluesy bend. The improvisation gets very excited, almost paid by the note, but with crisp phrasing. 

The renderings are impressively faithful but don’t obliterate personality. The themes are presented with an understated tenderness and the improvisations are where they raise the temperature significantly and really let go, before relaxing it up again in reprises. The playing is energetic and, as standards-playing, perfectly realised, with a little extra. It feels like it has feeling in it, and not just the dazzling intent. 

Pete Martin on bass and Tim Carnegie on drums are given plenty to do in the most upbeat selections, but there is a tendency for the drums to be placed in the mix in a way that gives space for the woodwinds and piano, so some of the wonderful fine detail of the playing is pushed back – notably in “On The Nile” (written by Charles Tolliver but brought home by Jackie McLean) and “John Coltrane” (heard from Clifford Jordan).

Two selections are taken from Clifford Jordan Quartet’s 1973 Glass Bead Games album. “Maimoun” (by Stanley Cowell) doesn’t stray far, but the improvisations are confident and fairly busy. They go in, which forms a nice contrast with the tasteful restraint in the melodic themes, as the gears shift. The Coltranesque composition “John Coltrane” is kept lively. They omit the reflective moment of sixties chanting “John Coltrane/ first to go”, which would have stuck out, though I miss it as an affecting moment that in turn recalls that moment in A Love Supreme. The presence of its omission here points to the album’s awareness of the heavy shadow of Coltrane over all of this music, and reflects the decision that for now it’s maybe a bit beyond the scope.

Duke Pearson’s sumptuous ballad “You Know I Care” is given shades of classical colour; the flute gives the ballad a bit of a chamber music feel. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to carbon copy soundalike his heroes, though there is of course palpable channelling and due tribute. It’s highly impressive to come to alto saxophone so late and play it with such facility. His flute is more familiar but has the same vibrato signature and command of bop language. As an album designed to show off their chops it admittedly delivers. If Tenderlonious has proved his mettle, maybe now’s a great chance to push back the frontiers. He’s already pushed them back to the sixties… who knows where he’ll go next… 😉

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINK: You Know I Care on Bandcamp (released 25 Aug 2023 on CD / Vinyl/ Download)

16 Sep : Ninety One Living RoomLondon, UK
15 Nov: OsloLondon, UK

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