This is a perfect example of what contemporary British jazz is all about. Dave O’Higgins will be well known to many followers of British jazz. The tenor and soprano saxophonist has maintained his quest for original artistic expression for many years whilst acknowledging a great respect of the jazz tradition. Born in Birmingham in 1964. He cut his musical teeth with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. An early visit to the recording studio in 1989 resulted in the album ‘Roadside Picnic’ by the jazz-rock fusion group of the same name. This was quickly followed with a second album and both are well worth seeking out. His first album under his own name came in 1992 with ‘All Good Things’, an exciting quartet album. Over the next twenty-eight years, he has produced a varied catalogue of albums and has established himself as a composer, educator and producer of some renown. He has even found time to establish his own recording studio – JVG.
Last year he released an album with guitarist Rob Luft featuring Monk and Coltrane tunes on Ubuntu Music. He’s back now with another release, also on Ubuntu Music and it’s a fine effort. This time it’s a family affair with Dave’s wife Judith co-leading this quintet outing on tenor and soprano saxophones. Now, Judith may not be as familiar to jazz lovers as her husband, but she is certainly his equal here. Indeed, listening to the album it is often difficult to tell who is soloing. Interestingly, they both cite fellow saxophonist Dexter Gordon as a major influence and its clear to hear that throughout the album. I must mention here that Judith has a career outside music and as noted on her website, she is “undoubtedly the best forensic pathologist jazz saxophonist living in London”. This does not impede her ability as a saxophonist in any way.
The album consists of seven tracks which remind me, and I’m sure many others, of the classic ‘Tough Tenors’ outings of Johnny Griffin and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis. Graham Harvey is on piano, Jeremy Brown on bass and Josh Morrison at the drums. The album simply had to include at least one Dexter Gordon piece and we get one of his best “Hanky Panky” and another classic “Save Your Love for Me” from Buddy Johnson. Amongst the more muscular offerings, we are treated to one of the best ballads and one that we don’t hear often enough “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”. The album closes with another theme from Dexter Gordon “Soy Califa” from Gordon’s album “A Swingin’ Affair”.
It almost goes without saying that the recorded sound is exemplary and is a credit to Mr and Mrs O’Higgins hard work establishing and improving their studio facilities over the last ten years.
All-in-all, to steal from Dexter Gordon again, this is a truly swinging affair guaranteed to put a smile on our faces in these uncertain times. One for the end of year ‘Best Of’ lists.