Album Review: Nigel Price Organ Trio – Heads and Tales volume 2

Nigel Price Organ Trio

Heads & Tales Volume 2

Whirlwind WR4695

 

    The term ‘journeyman’ is often employed by jazz critics as a means of damning with faint praise, implying a musician who has achieved basic competence but is unable to inspire any higher feelings in his audience. In its original sense, it referred to a guild of skilled craftsmen, wandering from workshop to workshop in pursuit of excellence, employed by the day by whoever had need of their hard-earned talents. Nigel Price could surely wear this label with pride; his tireless travels around the length and breadth of the UK, at the helm of his own trio or as a valued addition to another leader’s outfit, seemingly only interrupted by regular appearances hosting the late show at Ronnie’s, are becoming the stuff of legend, and speak volumes about the depth of his commitment to his art. He’s content to let others carry the banner of the avant-garde and dedicate himself to reaffirming the values that crystallised around the hard-bop movement of the 1950s Golden Age – impeccable swing, passionate execution, thorough harmonic knowledge and an intimate familiarity with both the language of be-bop and the standard repertoire of the Great American Songbook. This album demonstrates all these virtues with a programme of  newly written contrafact melodies over standard forms, enabling Price to play to all his strengths over familiar changes while avoiding the staleness of over-familiarity. Back in the 50s, bands could hone their musical identities over the course of month-long club residencies, but that scene has all but disappeared; by sheer self-motivated dedication Price has managed to get more gigs in the last year for the regular trio featured on this recording than many bands play in a lifetime, and it shows – there’s exactly the levels of empathy and telepathic communication that this music needs to really take off. Ross Stanley astonishes at the Hammond, and Matt Home provides sympathetic support and dazzling solo breaks as necessary, but it’s the buoyant, irresistible group swing of every tune that really lifts this above other releases in the genre. Price’s own guitar soloing is an endless delight, supple, inventive and swift, but with an unassuming yet passionate honesty in his tone that’s worlds away from the rather clinical smoothness of many contemporary guitarists. Up and Out has a spiralling melody that stays in the mind, and R & R benefits from a particularly imaginative re-working of the old warhorse Have You Met Miss Jones. Guest saxophonists, and long-time associates Garnett and Xenopolous make perfectly judged contributions, especially on Majority which features both together for some exciting trades. The second disc features renditions of the original tunes on guitar, alone or overdubbed, and underlines the leader’s complete mastery both of his instrument and his repertoire. Anyone who wants to support the continued existence of jazz in the UK, and also treat themselves to the sound of masters at work, should buy a copy, then check their calendar for the next live appearance.

 

Nigel Price, guitar; Ross Stanley, Hammond organ; Matt Home, drums; Alex Garnett, tenor & alto sax; Vasilis Xenopolous, tenor sax.

 

Eddie Myer