Sunday, 21 December 2008

Anna Brooks...

Still short of 10,000 hits, I'm not going to resort to desperate tactics just yet. In fact, in true Afric Pepperbird style, I'm going to be wilfully obscure and post a review of a CD that hardly anybody will be interested in (save for the band members, their friends and their extended families).

That's not to be gratuitously critical of the music here - it's just a sad fact that there are too many records in the world, they're all too easy to download (legally and otherwise), and that to really make an impact you need to hit on something pretty damned exceptional. This record just doesn't cut through, but it'd be churlish to knock them for trying.

With work on the house temporarily suspended and Louise struck down with flu (or something very similar), I'm fortunate enough to be finished with my dose of illness and can sit back to enjoy the new Pendulum box set (with Randy Brecker matching Dave Liebman blow for blow!!) and lots of groovy Strata East rarities. You just can't beat music from the '70s, particularly jazz!!

There'll be no "Merry Christmas" greetings, but I do sincerely wish all of my readers health, good fortune and good luck for 2009...

My Time

Karmarama; Already There; Beans’ Dreams; By Twelve; Dink No Dink; Bad Hair Day; For My Sins; My Time.

Anna Brooks (as, ss); Alcyona Mick (p); Tim Crampton (g); Dave Foster (b); Carl Hemingsley (d).

Starting to make waves outside of Birmingham, appearances by Anna Brooks’ young quintet at the Cheltenham, Brecon and even Montreux festivals have drawn praise from seasoned and astute listeners. ‘My Time’, the quintet’s debut recording, is ultimately a good account of where British jazz education is taking us. Slick without being terribly heartfelt or gritty, the music makes all the right noises but seems to lack that certain ‘x’ factor which can’t be taught.

Coming in at the soft end of contemporary jazz, simple melodic hooks, lyricism and steady rhythmic pulses are the basis building blocks. As an alto saxophonist, Brooks has a direct style with a tone (though not vocabulary) strongly influenced by contemporary players such as Antonio Hart and Kenny Garrett. Her work on soprano is rather less interesting, showing a tendency to flirt with the lyrical mush of Jazz FM, fortunately staying just the right side of the line for the most part. The eight pieces are all Brooks originals and range from thoughtfully engaging to bland. ‘Karmarama’ is a bright opener that must work well when played live, whilst ‘Already There’ and ‘For My Sins’ are the compositional high spots for me, suggesting that the quintet can get inside of a piece of music and explore its full potential.

Elsewhere, ‘Beans Dreams’ and the title track merely tread water. Alcyona Mick’s tasteful contributions on acoustic piano may be less exciting than her plugged-in work with Chris Bowden, though nevertheless leave a good impression. With conservatory-honed techniques all round you wouldn’t expect much to be lacking in terms of polish, though the licks-based superficiality of some of the playing is a concern. Ultimately, enough still remains to suggest that there’s better to come as this group gain experience and understanding. This will certainly satisfy the group’s growing fan-base for now, and does their reputation no harm.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, May 2004)

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