New Ears is the debut album for the Calum Gourlay Quartet, featuring Calum Gourlay (double bass), Helena Kay (tenor saxophone), Kieran McLeod (trombone) and James Maddren (drums), the title being a joke to self on his new role as listening leader. All tracks written by Calum Gourlay.
The first track of the album, Be Minor, was conceived and written by Gourlay as a “glorious opener” for the album and it certainly fits the remit. The chordal interplay taking place between tenor and trombone brought to mind Wayne Shorter albums from the 70’s. An exciting and satisfying piece.
In Blue Fugates, McLeod and Kay alternatively lay down some very smooth solos over Gourlay’s walking bass line. Gourlay’s solo is precise and interesting while Maddren reservedly holds the piece together. (I love it when something as ordinary as a title introduces me to fascinating new factoids – look up the “Blue Fugates of Kentucky” to find out why only those really into the blues, should marry their cousin).
The title track, New Ears, is a delight of interaction; the bouncing bass line creating an element of suspense, taken up by the winds, building tension right up to the last (withheld) climax.
Listen to New Ears here:
In contrast, Solstice is a quiet, dirge-like piece with a simple repeating meme. An edgy dissonance from the wind interplay creates an eerie aura of unease. Ro is an eclectic mix of timings and energy, starting with a slow and limping beat, it jumps to an upbeat tempo over walking bass, solos interspersed throughout, all changes masterfully held together by Maddren’s sympathetic playing. In the calming Emotional Trombone, winds play counterpoint to the simple bass line with solos from both trombone and tenor. Trinity is the final track of the album, the single repeating bass note immediately presents an air of tension, taken up by the frantic lines of the winds. Features an extended interplay between trombone and percussion.
Gourlay’s concept for the quartet arose from his Big Band in residence at The Vortex Jazz Club (all the quartet having been important members of that band). Normally I’m not a great fan of big bands as I feel the music can become too centred on the “big sound”, restricting the variety of pieces and limiting interactive free-play. In this trimmed back version, however, I feel Gourlay has mastered the best of both worlds. All the pieces show great empathy between the four talented musicians while the technique of arranging for a big band gives a wonderfully tight coherence, over which inter-weaving solos and melodies are overlain, effecting greater variety and energy while retaining a well finished sound.
One ever-so-slight niggle; I don’t normally touch the tone controls but here, really felt I had to boost the bass output to fully appreciate Gourlay’s fine solos.
All in all, my type of music. New Ears heralds The Calum Gourlay Quartet as a great little big band.