Ivo Neame – Strata

strata(Whirlwind Recordings WR4674)

Inevitably, British pianist (and saxophonist too, once upon a time) Ivo Neame is best known from his Scandinavian associations – as part of the trio Phronesis and as a crucial member or saxophonist Marius Neset’s band. He is also a vital part of Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet.

Here he leads a quintet with Tori Freestone on tenor saxophone and flute, Jim Hart on vibes, Dave Hamblett on drums and Tom Farmer or Andrea di Biase on bass.

To a certain extent it’s possible to predict the overall sound, style and direction of the music if you have heard an Ivo Neame solo, especially in the context of Phronesis. This is not to suggest that the rest of the band don’t get a say in things – this music is open enough for them to make their individual marks – but Neame brings to his compositions and arrangements the same talent he has for opening out a solo, taking it down intriguing new melodic and harmonic paths while still staying within a – what shall we call it? – contemporary jazz format.

The album opens in edgy fashion with the appropriately title Personality Clash – the clashes are worked out within each personality in fact, the band moving from mood to mood in a united way rather than fighting with each other. Neame leads the solos, with Hart and Freestone following – all filled with tension and internal wrangling.

Ivo has talked about the importance of each piece having its own identity and then that that identity should change within the piece too – he’s not a fan of simple repetition, but rather repetition of elements with variations in how they are presented. It makes for an album of music that takes a little time to absorb but which repays each listen in a subtly developing way.

Strata is one of my favourites at present, Neame adding synth accents behind his piano solo over a pulsing bass and pushing drums. OCD Blues works the theme over a nagging vibe counterpoint, then shifts a gear into a different feel; Miss Piggy is a tenor/piano showcase; Snowfall puts the vibes out in the wintery sun and is a prime example of Neame’s arranging skills; Crise De Nerfs sets flute and vibes over a fidgety rhythm; the trio piece Eastern Chant has a bass line that shouts Jasper Hoiby over which Neame weaves a particularly rich and rewarding solo; and Folk Song finds the leader on accordion and the influences strongly eastern European – at the start at least; like all the tracks on this album, it passes through other moods too, and ends up not where it began.

If the albums that Ivo Neame releases in his own name are not quite up there with those of Phronesis, Neset and Kairos, that says more about the superlative strength of those bands and their respective visions than it suggests any particular weaknesses here.

Strata is officially released next week but will give rewards for years to come.

  • The Ivo Neame Quintet plays The Red Lion in Hockley, Birmingham, on Friday, courtesy of Birmingham Jazz. More information is here.


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