Black Ship Bright Sea | Martin, JATP, Bradford
“I’ve had a good soak in the ‘bright sea’ and I have to say what a front-to-back masterpiece it is! Exceedingly refreshing and highly thoughtful use of guitar, (and that’s ‘de rigeur’ with jazz generally for me so to make it comment-worthy is quite exceptional) aided and abetted by the beautiful tone of the nylon strings and, of course, the exquisite playing and composition. And what inspired choice of bandmates? They seem to fit so naturally together – this can either be time-served, the quality of composition or just ‘natural’, maybe a combination of the three, but it works and so very, very well. I am now at a point of saturation that I find all tracks of broadly equally high value and audible pleasure – there are very few albums which I can say that about – I could probably count them on one hand. Another notable feature is that whilst A Green Sun suite is ‘classical’ guitar of excellent all around quality (and Lance Liddle’s comparison with Williams is most highly deserved I agree) they do not stick out from the other tracks as an obviously ‘different’ genre (if indeed we consider ‘jazz to be a ‘genre’ – I don’t personally), all of which speaks yet again so highly of the compositional brilliance. This is a bloody great album!”
“John Bailey is a classical and jazz guitarist from the north-west, a jazz MA from Leeds College of Music, and this is his second album, adding sax to an otherwise unchanged line-up. Bailey learned with Ralph Towner among others and like Towner prefers the classical guitar in a nominally jazz setting. It’s not charlie Byrd style jazz though. Rather, Bailey has written a set of originals, largely modal in style and reflective in mood. The leader’s accomplished finger-style guitar playing is complemented by strong solos from Iles and France, the former redolent of Kenny Wheeler. In fact Wheeler fans will find many points of reference in this quietly seductive set.”
Jazz goes to leeds
There is a certain fragility and romantic melancholy surrounding the sound of the flugelhorn in jazz. Place it within the context of rippling acoustic guitar and saxophone, and murmuring bass and drums, and the combination can be mesmerising. This is certainly the case with the John Bailey Quintet’s album release “Black Ship Bright Sea”. Featuring original material composed by guitarist John, the quintet features Richard Iles on flugelhorn, Tim France on saxophone, Gavin Barras on double bass and Steve Hanley on drums. Information on ASC records website reveals that, “The compositional devices rely on crossing of melodies between instruments and simultaneous melodies instead of simple harmonized ones. Harmonically the movement of chords is not based particularly on a usual system seen in jazz composition; the techniques are more in line with those of Arvo Part, each note having absolute importance and all tones present for a reason.” What this, rather eloquently, describes is the predominant feeling that these pieces are the product of both jazz and twentieth century classical music influences. “Strength in Numbers” is a sumptuous showcase for delicate nylon string guitar phrasing interwoven with brooding flugelhorn, whilst “Sfumato” draws heavily on modern classic ambience giving the music an altogether more enigmatic texture. There is, however, mischievousness to tunes such as “Positive Thinking” and “Flight Path” which illustrate the freedom of influences evident. “A Green Sun (I-IV)” features luxurious nylon string guitar playing, drawing in Eastern European, Spanish and classical dialects, emphasizing the poignancy that can be captured on this instrument within this framework. Fluently drawing all the moods evoked together in the final short piece “It’s A Strange World” underlines seamlessly the aesthetic at work on “ Black Ship Bright Sea”. Most certainly, music for the head and the heart. As “Jazz Goes To Leeds” has claimed previously when discussing the work of John Bailey, the music here will obviously be of interest to anyone who has a fondness for the ECM/Rune Grammofon catalogue, with it’s brooding Scandinavian nature. This, however, may be far too simplistic a statement to make to fully understand the tracks that make up “Black Ship Bright Sea”. There is the melancholy and scholarly aspect to these pieces, but there is also a playfulness which sets it apart on its’ own to produce an album of both intellect and mischief.
Bebop Spoken Here
John Bailey (gtr); Richard Iles (flug); Tim France (sax); Gavin Barras (bs); Steve Hanley (dms). (Review by Lance). Quoting from the blurb we’re told that the music here sits squarely on the border between jazz and classical music. Bailey’s compositions, it would appear, deal with the dark and light aspects of life. The aim of the compositions, it seems, is to move the listener through a range of different emotional states from depressing and bleak to uplifting and optimistic. Not a party record! I’m afraid the composer only partially succeeds in his objective – it didn’t make me feel at all depressed. You must try harder next time John! Where he did score was at the uplifting and optimistic end of the scale. Some good solos from Tim France, Iles sounds good on flugel and it really is uplifting to hear a nylon strung guitar in this world of multi effects pedals. The compositions are full of interesting conceptions. Even when the mood is aimed at the ‘black dog’ they are very listenable and unlikely to drive anyone to despair! Quite the opposite in fact! The enigmatically titled four part solo suite, A Green Sun, has some of the most beautiful classical guitar playing I’ve heard this side of John Williams. Bailey, who gained his MA in Jazz Performance from Leeds COM in 2010, currently teaches guitar at Liverpool Uni. This is an excellent album that hardly depressed me at all! Available on ASC Records. Lance.
Alan Musson – 102.5 The Bridge
“A thoughtful and considered album of contemporary Jazz. The solo guitar suite was an unexpected delight, drawing on John’s classical music background. ‘A Green Sun II’ brought to mind the music of another master of the genre; Ralph Towner. Wonderful musicianship from all concerned”.
If you were to set off for a night of chamber music with only the knowledge that a string quintet was to play, you would have a precise idea of what to expect, since the composition of such a group is a fixture of classical music. Not so jazz. A jazz quintet might typically feature piano, bass and drums—but it doesn’t always, so the rhythmic and harmonic possibilities are as open as the musicians and their instruments allow. In jazz, invention and creativity begin with the configuration of instruments—and it can still surprise. John Bailey’s guitar certainly wasn’t ‘instead of’ piano; and a guitar-led quintet has a character all its own—all the more in this case, because his technique is essentially classical and because he played a very ‘clean’ guitar, without any of the now-familiar accessories which can produce room-filling washes of sound but often at the expense of the kinds close attention and responsiveness which make a live performance so fascinating. This band was as original as it was hard-working. The compositions paired the two front-line instruments variously—in unison, playing complementary lines and in well-crafted solos. Richard Iles was in full command of the flugelhorn’s warm tone in the lower register, but also played with finesse and piercing clarity in the upper ranges, too, which is hardly a commonplace on that instrument. Tim France’s tenor solos were secure, un-showy and compelling. But the character of the band’s sound wasn’t entirely determined by the contrast between guitar and brass. Drummer Steve Hanley and bass player Garry Jackson provided a great deal more than propulsive impetus to the proceedings. The drumming in particular was resourceful, inventive and thrillingly musical, without ever becoming detached or obtrusive: an eloquent answer to the question, ‘What’s so special about jazz drumming?’ We enjoyed straight-ahead jazz, pieces of compositional delicacy and several turns of original rhythmic and harmonic creativity. Music is never jazzier then when serious improvising musicians play the music they know well in ways that surprise even them. That quality more than any other characterised a fine evening. J Whitman.
Jazz goes to Leeds
“Remember the aesthetic of the album cover, and the days where a 12” vinyl album cover could be a work of art in itself, and often the entry point into an artists music even before a note has been heard? The sepia imagery on the cover of the latest release from the John Bailey Quartet is, in many ways, reminiscent of the striking cover art of ECM, the label set up in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, and home to a catalogue of jazz, improvised and classical music, with a sophisticated level of musicianship, production and cover artwork. The artwork on “Heart Horizons” perfectly reflects the music within. The quartet features Steve Hanley on drums, Gavin Barras on bass, Richard Iles on flugelhorn and John Bailey on guitar, and will be of interest to anyone familiar with the refined, elegant production of labels such as ECM or Rune Grammofon. “Proceed with Caution” and Painters” feature tantalising interplay between the four instruments, around cheerful and buoyant themes, whilst “Laura” and “First Throw” are meditative and haunting. The acoustic guitar throughout, particularly on a piece such as “Ted’s Entrance”, is illustrative of how a sound so delicate and fragile, when set alongside other more authoritative sounding instruments, can possess a commanding voice of its’ own. One cannot help but consider how the album would sound so very different if the guitar sound were laden with ethereal effects and loops. The clean, organic sound of the acoustic guitar, however, adds an element of honesty and modesty, which allows the listener access to the intimate creative processes. “Regression” features stunning flourishes of classical guitar that bring to mind the work of Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. Whilst comparisons are being made, to help contextualise the sound, the plaintive, considerate and economical phrases of Kenny Wheeler are reflected in the contributions here from Richard Iles. The mood lifts on “Lightning Workshop” and allows each player room to stretch and embrace a funkier sound, whilst “A Harlot of a View” drifts gently over simmering percussion. Closing with “Terraced”, which appears to round up all the elements previously employed and package them into a stirring finale. So, as one considers the moorland terrain on the cover of “Heart Horizons” and allows the music to lead the way across the landscape, each individual track is a story being told over and beyond the panorama suggested at. For anyone fortunate enough to allow him or herself time to listen to the album, here is justification to remove oneself temporarily and consider the world around them.