Ready for take-off

Fri, May 11, 2012, 01:00

CD CHOICE: Dave Stapleton/FlightEdition Records ****

If the steady flow of fine recordings emanating fromour neighbouring isle is anything to go by, British jazz

is in creatively rude health. A new wave of musicians is emerging in the new century, and they are pulling the UK in a more European direction. We’re thinking of London punks Polar Bear and World Service Project, mod British/Scandinavian piano trio Phronesis, and rockers such as Leeds Trio VD and Bristol’s Get the Blessing, to name but a few.

As musically adventurous as they are commercially enterprising, these new wavers haven’t lost touch with US jazz by any means. But they are also plugging into the energy, creativity and sense of humour of British popular music. And it’s all finding new audiences for jazz.

Typical of the new wave is Cardiff pianist and composer Dave Stapleton. Writing and playing new original music clearly wasn’t enough of a challenge for Stapleton, who has also managed to turn his cottage record company, Edition Records, into one of the more artistically credible independent labels to emerge in Europe in recent years. As well as providing an outlet for his own music, Edition is home to some of today’s most forward-thinking musicians, including award winners Phronesis and the soon-to- be-everywhere Norwegian saxophonist Marius Nesset.

Flight clearly shows that becoming a producer and label boss hasn’t affected Stapleton’s commitment to his own music. His new quartet features Nesset (the impressive young tenor saxophonist from Bergen who blends the muscularity of Michael Brecker with the tenderness of Jan Garbarek) alongside bassist Dave Kane and drummer Olavi Louhivouri. To this powerful group Stapleton adds the Brodowski String Quartet, the charts for the whole ensemble unfolding like scenes in a tense thriller, with perhaps echoes of Keith Jarrett’s European quartet and Dave Holland’s ECM groups audible in the writing and the playing.

There’s plenty of room for blowing, as well, principally on the the saxophone, as the two quartets build together from brooding tension to grand, almost operatic climaxes. If Flight was the sound track to a movie, it would be well worth a look.