CD REVIEW: Alison Rayner Quintet - A Magic Life


Alison Rayner Quintet - A Magic Life
(Blow the Fuse Records BTF1613CD. CD review by Adrian Pallant)


A celebration of life itself, British double bassist and composer Alison Rayner’s second quintet album was, she recounts, inspired by two happenings: “…the loss of a friend last year, who wrote her own epitaph about how magic her life had been; then a chance encounter with a young boy, who asked me ‘Is music stronger than magic?’ I replied, ‘To me, music is a merging of magic and logic.’ These events set me on a course of thinking about connections between memory, mortality, magic – and music.”

The bassist’s colleagues are Buster Birch (drums, percussion), Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Diane McLoughlin (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Steve Lodder (piano), and A Magic Life’s eight original compositions – the majority from Rayner’s pen – possess a certain joie de vivre. Contemporary jazz’s stylistic range, more than ever these days, is so broad; yet the accessible, melodic and rhythmic sparkle this quintet consistently creates across these fifty minutes is an enlivening pleasure, full of crisp interplay and bright, varied timbres.

Indeed, there’s something about the clarity of this recording – both from the point of production quality and instrumental phraseology – which ‘lifts it off the page’. The African exuberance of title track A Magic Life, for example, revels in a great connection between saxophonist and guitarist as memorable unison riffs are buoyed by Rayner’s rhythm section, with Diane McLoughlin’s shining soprano gyrating around Steve Lodder’s bustling piano (throughout this album, the detailing of the arrangements adds so much flair). Although always the driving force, Alison Rayner’s bass is selectively prominent in the mix, the sonority of her playing in the inquiring groove of Musicophilia hinting at one of her influences, Eberhard Weber; and here, Deirdre Cartwright’s breezy chordal spotlight is a joy. The Trunk Call (inspired by Keralan temple festival drummers) honours “the beautiful and majestic elephant” with a cool, staccato guitar swing and beaten percussion, as Rayner’s arco fifths cleverly evoke the hurdy gurdy.

Overdriven guitar in Mayday crackles and whistles beautifully above its rock urgency, whilst Swanage Bay’s contrasting, nostalgic reflection summons glinting seas and carefree days through soaring soprano improv and vibrant piano colorations, buoyed by Rayner’s simple, yet effective bass ground. Diane McLoughlin’s New Day began life as a large ensemble piece, and this folksongy arrangement spreads positivity by way of assertive octave piano phrases which encourage a canonic effect throughout the quintet (“there’s always a journey and a New Day”). Steve Lodder’s dramatically surging The OK Chorale opens out into wide-skied freedom, culminating in an elegant piano chorale; and end piece Friday’s Child is a tender, cantabile bass tribute to Rayner’s mother (“loving and giving”), delicately enhanced by her personnel.

If the first rule of life is to do what makes you happy… this album tumbles and flows with such a spirit, performed by a quintet whose musicality and heart enables it.

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

LINK: Podcast interview with Alison Rayner about A Magic Life

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