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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Monday, 01 May 2023 04:34

Sharp Little Bones ft. Tony Kofi - Volumes I & II

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As-live album captures sound of trio giving conventional jazz stylings plenty of bold new twists.

This is a strong debut from a trio that’s new to me and offer super-smooth contemporary jazz sounds that reach back to the standards era but remain resolutely modern in feel. It’s a tricky balancing act, but this band pulls it off.

Sharp Little Bones is Simon Paterson on electric and upright bass, Paul Deats on piano and keyboards and Andrew Wood on drums, each of whom are established players in the English jazz scene. Crucially, what brings some real pop to the album is the collaboration with MOBO-nomimated sax player Toni Kofi on saxophone.

As often happens, it can simply take one additional flavour to turn a simple cake into a sumptuous treat, and I think that’s what Kofi’s presence on this album does - his excellence brings out the excellence of the other players. Recorded over just nine hours in the studio - so it has a fresh, unprocessed feel - across thirteen tracks the four musicians explore all sorts of jazz byways and beyond: some tracks are all about the melody, others focus on the bass groove, and there are a few ballads thrown in for good measures.

Opener Ury bop jumps out with a booming bass and sax/keyboards in unison on an up tempo tune that opens out into Kofi’s languid playing, which has space to meander. The engineer has captured the bands high-precision playing and clear sound, and the recording setup up creates an all-encompassing in-studio feel, that comes across well on a track like Layli’s Lullaby, where you really get inside the instruments, especially the cymbals on the drums which cut through the mix.

There’s both a solidly ’traditional’ feel to the playing - they follow many of the conventions that jazz piano trios have followed for decades (soloing, breaks, comping, A and B structure, mixing up tempo with ballads) - but it does feel solidly modern, especially when bassist Paterson solos and expands on his electric bass.

Brie en croute (‘Cheese on toast’) is a walking pace ballad, all brushed drums and cymbals, with lots of clear air for Deats to explore the edges of a very simple melody and harmony: it’s not ground-breaking, but it does what any piano ballad should do: calm you down, transport you, allow your ears to just wallow in the notes.

Chromatose kicks off with Paterson’s acoustic bass and a trembling refrain from Kofi: it’s another slow tempo track, with a lyrical melody lacking any ornamentation but nevertheless moving the track along well. 

Last track on the first disc, Downfall, is a departure: Deats starts it off with a series of keyboard sounds you’d expect to find on the highest score of your favourite arcade game, before Paterson on fretless electric bass and Kofi both slide in gently and, over the sweetest of bass chords, pick out a straightforward, languid, refrain that gently picks at the ears. Paterson’s soloing is exquisite, and his set-up brilliantly captures the lowest of booms and the sharpest of high-tones.

Watch a video montage of the band performing live at Peggy's Skylight, here:

The second set of tracks continues in the same vein, but there are plenty of surprises along the way too. A highlight is the upbeat Mackerel Sky, which has the feel of incidental music that could work on a mid-Atlantic comedy drama; again it's the electric bass playing of Paterson that provides the crunch here, creating yard after yard of solid grove over which Kofi and Deats just do their thing - sometimes in unison, other times letting off the handbrake and running wild.

Trailblazing has some gorgeously thick harmonics by Paterson on electric bass at the start, over the lighest of brush drums by Wood, and the low-end waves really pulsate from the speakers, especially when Paterson and Kofi duet to cover all the frequencies with an introspective melody, underpinned by some subtle electronic keyboard shade from Deats. It’s definitely the most atmospheric track on the album.

Jazz piano trios are still the meat and potatoes of modern jazz. So, if you’re a new trio, and you want to get cut-through and standout in a market that’s, let’s be fair, full to brim with piano trios, you’ve got to be brave and find an approach that brings something new to the game.

With the colour offered by Kofi’s expressive playing, some great compositions, and a readiness to go off piste when the track demands it, Sharp Little Bones have got a solid base on which to reach a wider audience. Its calorie-packed contemporary jazz that offers enough to please existing jazz fans looking for something new, and those for whom jazz is still a largely unexplored arena. 

Well worth a listen.


Read 599 times Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2023 12:50

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