Monday, 29 September 2008

Gordon Beck...

Other than to take a swipe at the parsimonious folks at the pretentiously titled 'Art of Life' records, I don't know why I'm giving this disc the oxygen of publicity for the second time. As you'll see I gave it a fair review, but when I tried to reduce my mountain of unwanted CDs by selling it on eBay, the record label reported me to the organisation and pulled the plug on the listing.

It's about time they learned the twin arts of appreciation and gratitude in times when the market for CDs is shrinking every day. Anybody want a free copy of this 'recommended' CD?

Seven Steps To Heaven
Art Of Life Records (AL1018-2)

Backwards Bop; Gone With The Wind; JuJu; Isotope; Quiet Now; Solar; Seven Steps To Heaven

Pierrick Pedron (as); Gordon Beck (p); Bruno Rousselet (b); Philippe Soirat (d)
Recorded February 2005.

From Tubby Hayes to Phil Woods, Allan Holdsworth to Lena Horne, Gordon Beck’s 40-plus years in top-flight music are connected by a consistently propulsive style and unwavering faith in the core values of jazz. Whilst Stan Tracey may be better known and Howard Riley push more boundaries, Beck is surely Britain’s greatest pianist in the modern mainstream. A career spent largely as a freelance is testament to that, his CV showing a player coveted by many high profile employers.

Seven Steps To Heaven, recorded live in Paris in February 2005, sees Beck as leader, and his employees all are comfortably above par. The pianist has worked on many occasions with the bass/drums team of Rousselet and Soirat, even recording with them previously, but it is the four tracks with guest saxophonist Pierrick Pedron that really grab the attention here. Pedron fits perfectly into Beck’s post-bop agenda, playing with a wispy tone that sometimes recalls Art Pepper (‘Gone With The Wind’), though more often Bird via the swagger of Jackie McLean.

The material, including Wayne Shorter’s ‘JuJu’ and Joe Henderson’s ‘Isotope’ neatly matches the quartet’s ambitions, and is read with great reverence and a large amount of literalism. The quartet’s raison d’etre is to precisely to operate within this idiom, and they stick to the brief with considerable aplomb. Listening to the opener, Billy Childs’ ‘Backward Bop’, it is true to say that it could have been recorded at any time from 1960 to date. Pedron sits out on both this piece and Isotope’, whilst Denny Zeitlin’s ‘Quiet Now’, a Beck solo not recorded at these sessions, serves as a fitting interlude in a largely high octane gig. With the four quartet pieces pushing or exceeding the 10-minute mark, there’s both room to stretch out and insufficient time to waste. Beck and Pedron are always the principle soloists, but Rousselet and Soirat get their space, and ‘trading fours’ is another tradition that the quartet observes.

Just as Beck’s richly deserved reputation has been garnered by working with established figures, it is hoped Pedron’s bright talent gets a similar shin-up from this engagement. The way in which the pair burn through ‘Solar’ suggests that as long as the public has an appetite for this music, belying time and place, the saxophonist’s place is assured. Recommended.

Fred Grand

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