Bassist and composer Alison Rayner spoke to SJM editor Charlie Anderson ahead of her appearance at Chichester Jazz Club.
With a career spanning more than 40 years, nearly 30 of which have been spent running Blow the Fuse with Deirdre Cartwright, bassist Alison Rayner didn’t release her debut album until 2014. The acclaimed album August featured her regular quartet line-up of guitarist Deirdre Cartwright, saxophonist Diane McLoughlin, pianist Steve Lodder and drummer Buster Birch.
Rayner is clear about the reasons for starting the band. “I started the group about four years ago because I wanted to create my own sound more. I’ve written for a long time and I’ve written for other people’s groups and had pieces recorded and played in band’s repertoires but it’s different when you’re writing for your own group. You can really see through the sounds that you want to create.”
“The feedback that I get when people see us is that the music is very accessible. Obviously it’s instrumental jazz but I’ve always loved melody and tunes. So there’s a lot of melody in it and it’s an accessible music. We’ve played at a lot of the jazz clubs around the country and we always get a good response. I sell a lot of albums which always tells you that people like the music and they want to take it home with them.” As a result of this, new music is in the pipeline, “We’ve had two albums now, in the last four years, and I’m now developing pieces for the next one.”
Rayner is also keen to talk about the key to the band’s success and popularity. “I think we’re a communicative group. I don’t talk endlessly but I do like to tell people about the pieces. From being at gigs where people just play tunes and don’t tell you anything about what’s going on, that’s fine. You can just listen to music, that’s not a problem. But I think it’s more engaging and draws people in more if you tell the audience a few things about what the piece is about or what you had in mind. It helps and people have said that they enjoy that. It draws people in because we’re not playing jazz standards so people don’t have the references or know the piece already.”
Another reason for their success, Rayner notes, is the wealth of experience in the band. “All the musicians in the band are very experienced, both experienced as performers and most of them write. On our most recent album, A Magic Life, both Diane McLoughlin and Steve Lodder contributed a piece each. It was really nice to have their input as well and they’re both great pieces.”
Over the past few years the profile of the group has grown, even more than Rayner first anticipated. “I didn’t start out with expectations, particularly, which is good. These days there are a lot of bands out there, and a lot of youngsters coming out of college courses. The profile of the group has risen really well since we started and I can see that, in that I’m getting a lot more offers of gigs and we’re able to expand the area that we’re playing. Later this year we’re planning to get up to Scotland, which we haven’t done yet. We’ve played in England a lot, and Wales, and also in September we’re going to be doing some dates in Germany. So we’re spreading out a bit. We’ve got a very nice gig coming up on 21st February at Pizza Express Dean Street. We played there last June and got a really good crowd so we were given another date. That’s a lovely place to play.”
Rayner also has a connection with Sussex. “Although I grew up in Kent, my father moved to Sussex and lived there for all of his later life, and my step-mother still lives in Storrington. So I’ve been to Sussex a lot. I always enjoy coming down to Brighton. I know quite a few people there, it seems to have a very good music scene. We’ve played at The Verdict a couple of times in Brighton but not in Chichester before, so it’s very nice to bring the band to Chichester for the first time.”
The Alison Rayner Quintet perform at Chichester Jazz Club on Friday 16th February, 2018.
A Magic Life is available on the Blow the Fuse record label.
For more information on Alison Rayner and Blow the Fuse:
[Photo of Alison Rayner by Mike Porter, cropped from original]