Album Review: Calum Gourlay – New Ears

Calum Gourlay Quartet

New Ears

(Ubuntu – UBU0043)

Dark hues prevail in this bass-led project, with the higher register of Helena Kay’s precise, clear-toned tenor and drummer du jour James Maddren’s restless, polyrhythmic cymbal patterns providing the upper frequencies over the rich low end of bass and trombone. Gourlay is a mainstay of the London jazz scene, his powerful tone and accurate intonation having provided support for a wide range of local and visiting artists from Kit Downes to Kurt Elling: he also runs his own big band project with a monthly residency at the Vortex, and this quartet poaches three of the key musicians from that ensemble for a set of carefully arranged compositions that still leave plenty of room for free-ranging group improv. Blue Fuguates points towards the group’s origins: the head arrangement has a distinct flavour of big-band horn charts, then there’s some swinging bop-to-free solos from the horns over a loping groove before a shout chorus kicks in – Mingus would have approved. Elsewhere contemporary straight-eighths feel predominates, New Ears has a starker, euro-jazz feel with complex horn lines over an urgent pulse: Solstice showcases Gourlay’s superb pitching in a chordal bass line, Ro mixes in some more bluesy sensibility with a pastoral, almost country-flavoured piece that recalls Charlie Haden. Emotional Trombone has a similarly reflective mood and actually features Kay and McLeod equally in dialogue, with a particularly satisfying bass coda from Gourlay; all three are highly complementary players in terms of their delivery and vocabulary. The writing is strong and characterful and the playing is superbly assured throughout, from the young horn players as much as from the masterful rhythm section – Trinity and Be Minor have a declamatory energy that’s really exciting, and this confident debut bristles with potential.

Eddie Myer

Calum Gourlay, bass; Helena Kay, tenor sax; Kieran McLeod, trombone; James Maddren, drums.