Sunday, 19 April 2009

Paul Towndrow...

After an afternoon in the garden spreading bark chippings, it's time I did something a little more relaxing. The blog has again been neglected, but I'm determined to keep posting at least a couple of things a month and get more of my old reviews out there.

Continuing the Scottish Jazz theme, here's a review of a disk by a player who cut his teeth in Scotland before doing a Tommy Smith and crossing the Atlantic to polish up his act. A pretty impressive CD, but not really the breakthrough it may have been as Towndrow is hardly yet a widely acclaimed force. Described in The Guardian as 'a turbo charged amalgam of all your saxophone heroes', you'd be wise self-censor the hyperbole and ask how many other young players could be described in the same way. The dedication to Trevor Taylor (publisher of Avant Magazine, where I started) is noteworthy though, and as a barometer of the state of contemporary jazz today it'll do nicely enough (even if it doesn't have you in raptures).

There'll be more soon as the countdown to our next trip to Edinburgh continues, but I may be struggling to find any more reviews of Scottish artists. Would Charles McPherson be stretching things too far...?

Out Of Town

Rubix Cube; Signs Of Life; Tricky Trev; Say As I Do; Cryogenics; High Point; Trivia; East Wall Base.

Paul Towndrow (as/ss); Steve Hamilton (p); Michael Janisch (b); Alyn Cosker (d), (3/05).

With so many promising young talents cutting debut CDs then disappearing as quickly as they emerged, Paul Towndrow has already travelled further than many. A Tommy Smith protégée, Towndrow received his grounding at the Scottish Jazz Institute and the University of Strathclyde, before going to the Boston’s renowned Berklee finishing school for a year. Working with George Garzone and Joe Lovano amongst others, he has also toured with The Bad Plus (playing the music of Ornette Coleman), garnering praise and a smattering of awards along the way.

Out Of Town is his third disc as leader, and although it’s fair to say that he’s yet to make the same headway with the public as Soweto Kinch, this is the kind of accomplished outing that will do his reputation no harm at all. Starting with the edgy ‘Rubix Cube’, Towndrow’s astringent alto rides above Cosker’s free percussive splashes before the piece resolves into a fast post-bop workout. Towndrow generally pushes the envelope further on alto, reserving the soprano for balladry. Doubling on soprano and alto isn’t too common given their different pitching, but Towndrow is equally adept on either. “Signs of Life” sees him pick up the smaller horn to survive the ballad test with ease. The staccato and exaggeratedly Monkish theme of ‘Tricky Trev’, possibly a sly nod to FMR’s Trevor Taylor (who released his second album, Colours) shows a player not given to shirk a technical challenge, whilst “Say As I Do” ventures into stormier waters and recalls Gary Bartz in his prime.

Towndrow’s approach is more trans-atlantic than many UK based players, hardly a trace of pastoralism to be found in his decidedly urban lexicon. Traces of Arthur Blythe and Eric Dolphy surface occasionally, but if you’re looking for a ready comparison, Myron Walden is the closest contemporary I could name. Pianist Steve Hamilton should already be known to most readers via much high profile work on the UK scene. Here his piano has the directness of early Tyner, probing urgently throughout Towndrow’s eight distinctive compositions. Drummer Cosker has the kind of loose limbed unruliness of Jim Black, not a bad thing, whilst bassist Janisch anchors the quartet with his busy bass lines. Regardless of any speculation about where Out Of Town may take Towndrow’s career in the future, this is already interesting music now and you should buy it with confidence.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, September 2005)

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