Nick Malcolm Quartet - Beyond These Voices
(Green Eyes Records GE15 CD Review by Jon Turney)
Trumpeter Nick Malcolm has been consolidating his reputation as an unusually gifted explorer of the broad expanses that lie between "inside" and "outside" playing in the two years since this quartet's first CD, Glimmers, appeared. Now their second recording confirms that this is one of the most interesting bands on the UK scene.
Malcolm's concept of free is the expansive one that says you can play anything you like, but more choice means more thought, too. Chords, melody and groove are welcome, and so is anything else your instrument will do, as long as it fits the moment. As a way of keeping jazz fresh it's hard to beat, especially when pursued with the equally adventurous, like-minded players here - the prodigious Alexander Hawkins on piano, Olie Brice on bass, and the versatile Bristol-based drummer Mark Whitlam, who also works with Malcolm with vocalist Emily Wright in Moonlight Saving Time.
It does sound fresh, partly because it is always good to hear a relatively young group working this territory instead of offering (yet) another hard bop retread, partly because it is done very well. And perhaps it is more approachable now than when this kind of group first made waves. After all, its origins are not much more recent than hard bop. The sound here aligns with the more reflective wing of the 1960s' avant-garde: Jimmy Giuffre would feel immediately at home.
The session captured on this CD, recorded a year ago, is cleverly varied, but has a recurrent feeling of spaciousness. Several of the climactic points of the music are actually moments of silence. This happens on Grimes, as Liam Noble points out in a characteristically perceptive sleeve note, in Improvisation 2, a free exchange between pianist and drummer, and in the memorably meditative closer, Where, Beyond These Voices, There Is Peace.
Also in the mix is another duo improvisation, for Malcolm and Brice, whose combination of solidity and flexibility is crucial throughout, and up-tempo, composed pieces that lean more toward Ornette Coleman, or perhaps the great Coleman-schooled trumpet player Bobby Bradford. Hawkins is brilliant throughout, now delicate, now tumultuous, and the same goes for three contributions from guest Corey Mwamba - another free spirit - on vibes.
All the work here is as conversational and co-operative as this music demands. Still, you know at the end it was Malcolm's date. The versatility of his sound is just as he himself describes, "sometimes warm and round, sometimes brighter and hard edged" What he doesn't say is that when he unfolds a longer solo he blends all his influences into an improvisational logic that takes you to places you weren't anticipating but seem exactly right when you arrive.
This is a band of committed, creative players making open-eared, confident, engaging music with a quiet intensity that is often sought, yet rarely realised.