CD REVIEW: Scrapbook (Angus Bayley) - Scrapbook

Scrapbook - Scrapbook
(SPARK Label SPARK 002. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

The title of Yorkshire-born, London-based pianist/composer Angus Bayley's septet project, Scrapbook, infers his idiosyncratic approach to music. Whilst his early years saw him taking a fairly standard route of academic piano study, Bayley explains that it was more specifically his ear for experimentation and transcription which fired his interest – something encouraged by his tutor Richard Fairhurst, as well as by other influencers such as Tom Cawley, Huw Warren and Kit Downes. And all this, whilst he pursued a PhD-based career in materials physics, following his time at Imperial College London.

So, whilst Bayley's creativity is informed by jazz and its culture of difference and improvisation, he places no emphasis on genre or subgenre, instead gathering melodies and chord sequences which might have the ability say something new – and that concept of intended or subliminal sampling of ideas is a considerable strength in this project's self-titled debut release, creating a warm tapestry of folksy, storytelling, chamber jazz. Joining the pianist are Alaric Taylor (trumpet), Kieran McLeod (trombone), Paul Trippett (bass), Dave Hamblett (drums) and, perhaps key to the specific character of these nine original compositions, violinist Nick Sigsworth and violist Daisy Watkins.

The pianistic pulse and enamouring chordal colour of Alex's song (co-written with Alex Chilton) immediately entice, with brass and strings harmoniously melding shades of TV-theme dreamland; and Henno's countrified ebullience – initially stated so crisply at the piano – is imaginatively orchestrated, complete with little touches such as McLeod's distant trombone 'mooings' and Taylor's clear-toned trumpet improvisations. Bayley does indeed possess an oblique musical character, his sensitive piano supporting Kenny Wheeler-style trumpet wistfulness in Triads before it becomes sumptuously filled-out by instrumental textures underpinned by Dave Hamblett's undulating, soft-malleted drums.

Wrioter's beautiful, hymn-like simplicity intimates the sound of northern colliery bands, albeit with break-loose muted trombone and Bayley's own, acute jazz elegance (again, with attractive details such as a long-sustained, background strings drone), whilst Spacewalk's cool, whispy weightlessness could easily suggest Groove Armada – and the solo piano freedom here is exquisite.

By this halfway point, it feels rather special… and My first friends – somewhere between melodic, nursery rhyme delicacy and harmonic, Bacharach lushness – furthers the interest with a subtly darker edge, which also finds its way into unpredictable, lurching Singer man. Quiet, almost Celtic-tinged Steam finds beauty in Paul Trippet's regular, bass-trodden metre and a three-way conversation between strings, brass and piano; and though a return to the album's earlier buoyancy might have been a welcome conclusion, serenely melancholic Tides confirms Bayley's penchant for picture-painting, perhaps lamenting the passing of summer.

Only the second release on fledgling British music label, SPARK (founded by musicians JJ Wheeler and Tom Green), here is a recording which exudes both the affable glow and the burning ambition of creative freedom. Science and music are often recognised as intertwined disciplines – long may the artistic side of Angus Bayley's mind excel.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, jazz writer and musician who also reviews at his own site

LINK: Our preview feature on pianist-composer Angus Bayley

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