The British-born Canadian-raised, New York based tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake is a kind of talisman for young jazz group leaders, many of them guitar players, and many of them British. And so it is here, though this time the leader/guitarist is originally from Ireland.
Mark McKnight took the logical route – it leads to Boston – and studied at Berklee College Of Music, was awarded third place in the Montreux International Guitar Competition in 2008, won Best Young Irish Musician at Cork Jazz Festival and represented a united Ireland at the 12 Points Festival in Norway. He has played with Terrell Stafford, Jason Rebello, Tim Warfield, Bill Carrothers, Sam Yahel and Will Vinson.
He has a rich, modern guitar sound which can be clean and singing, and often has a tinge of Scofield distortion to add burnish to the gleam.
He wrote all the material here, with the exception of Rodgers and Hart’s Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered, and the tunes have an easy familiarity about them without sounding like copies. They are mostly concise themes acting as heads and a springboard for solos.
This would be a fine album without Blake: in addition to the flowing, creative guitar solos of McKnight, there are the rich harmony and bass grooves of Ross Stanley on organ and the punchy, always pushing James Maddren is on drums.
But, as usual, Blake does add the cherries. He is so comfortable with any length of improvisational space, whether a single chorus or the long, slow build. His melodic, flowing style suits McKnight just fine, because the guitarist shares those qualities. Listen to both of them shining at length on Nightcap.
Stanley’s solo verse introduction to Bewitched is rich and ever so slightly foreboding, and then McKnight enters with the more familiar chorus and phrases it just beautifully and simply, throwing in just one blistering flourish on the way. Blake takes over for the bridge and restatement of the chorus, and continues the mood of graceful suspense.
Tease is a more upbeat piece with McKnight pressing the grunge pedal to dirty his tone, while Contemplate shows off the poise and eloquence of the whole band at slow speed and pianissimo, with Blake there to build the intensity near the end.
The closing track, (We’ll) Just Disappear, has one of those walking-paced, dignified beginnings, before speeding and building to a deep groove with Maddren moving from rimshots to more bustle, before it slows again for McKnight’s solo, and a duet section with Blake. Faster again for Blake’s solo and on for a fine 10 minutes in total before, yes, the band disappears.
Luckily over the next couple of weeks they reappear in the flesh, all over the UK and Ireland.
Here are the tour dates:
Tonight – 7.30pm Colston Hall 2, 13 Colston Street, Bristol BS1 5AR
Tomorrow – 8.30pm The 606 Club 90 Lots Road, London SW10 0QD
Tue 20 – 8.30pm Dempsey’s 15 Castle Street, Cardiff CF10 1BS
Wed 21 – 8.30pm The Griffin 266 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 4JP
Thu 22 – 8pm Seven Arts 31 Harrogate Road, Leeds LS7 3PD
Fri 23 – 7.45pm Millennium Hall, Polish Centre, 520 Ecclesall Rd, Sheffield S11 8PY
Sat 24 – 7.30pm The Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre, Naul, Fingal, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Sun 25 – 7.30pm Crescent Arts Centre, 2-4 University Rd, Belfast
Mon 26 – 8.30pm The Blue Lamp, 121 Gallowgate, Aberdeen AB25 1BU
Tue 27 – 8pm The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Newcastle NE1 2PQ
Wed 28 – 8.30pm Swansea Jazzland St. James Social Club, St. James Crescent SA1 6DR
Thu 29 – Album launch 7.15pm Ronnie Scott’s 47 Frith St, Soho, London W1D 4HT
Thu 29 – 8.30pm The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, London W1D 5NA
Fri 30 – 8pm Great Northern Hotel, Station Approach, Peterborough PE1 1QL