CD REVIEW: Matt Wates Sextet – Yemanja

Matt Wates Sextet – Yemanja
(audio-b ABCD 5030. CD Review by Peter Vacher)

I’ve lost count of the number of albums that Matt Wates has orchestrated for his long-standing sextet, the majority released on band bassist Malcom Creese’s audio-b label. As is often the case, all bar one of the album’s twelve tracks on this release are Wates compositions, in itself a tribute to his fecundity and of course, to the band’s longevity and their interest in performing his pieces.

Bucking the present-day trend, altoist Wates has kept a settled personnel with only occasional changes, founder member Martin Shaw retained on trumpet alongside fellow-starter Creese, with Leon Greening on piano, Matt Home on drums and the most recent recruit, Steve Main on tenor.

Wates’s alto style has evolved over the years, always fluent yet never overbearing, like Cannonball with added Pepper plus occasional hints of Desmond, but it’s his compositional qualities that need to be stressed. He doesn’t just throw a couple of riffs together and see where they go, rather he creates complete pieces, concentrating on shapes and their resolution, with under-writing for the solos. I’m tempted to say he’s a composer who also plays but that’s unjust: he’s the complete package.

All of this is in evidence on this album bar one rather unusual track, where Matt plays a rather fetching solo improvisation on Paganini’s Caprice No 5. No Way Back epitomises the Wates approach, an airy opening phrase is nicely voiced, with Shaw’s eloquent trumpet featured, rhythm puttering away below, ahead of a secondary phrase, Blue Note-ish in a well-mannered way. Much the same goes for the remainder of the album with Just Add Water opening with a piano-bass ostinato under a clarion motif by the horns, with Main emerging, whileSamba for Heather is livelier and the brilliant and bluesy After Hours is a delight, Shaw again the standout.

That said, having just heard the band live, while this recording gives a decent picture of their capabilities, I missed their bandstand energy and the opportunity to hear the soloists, especially Wates and Greening stretch out at greater length. So take it for what it is but look to hear Wates and company live. It’ll be worth it.

Peter Vacher's new book ‘Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African-American Jazz in Los Angeles’ is out in September.

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