Andrew Bain ‘Embodied Hope’ (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

Embodied Hope is the debut album from Scots drummer and educator, Andrew Bain. Now settled in Birmingham, Andrew has done his fair share of globe-trotting. Having worked and studied in the USA has done him no harm whatsoever.

What is unusual about this album is that it is not only an auspicious debut, but also has a parallel life as part of Andrew’s PhD in research practice. Whilst this is important, Andrew would maintain that it is equally important that he has created something that people will want to listen to. Judging by the plaudits received so far, this is certainly the case.

The music on the album has been extensively road-tested before being committed to CD. Whilst Andrew describes the seven pieces on the album as a suite, this is not a suite in the generally accepted sense. It is rather more of a ‘moveable suite’ in that the various movements are often performed in no set order and can depend on factors such as how receptive the performers consider the audience at a particular venue to be.

Andrew was inspired to write the music following reading ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’ which describes seven necessary aspects leading to ‘hope’ which is where the ‘Embodies Hope’ concept comes from. The melodies that you hear and the harmonic structures are based on those ideas.

Indeed, Andrew didn’t intend to write a suite of pieces. He describes it more as a confluence of research, playing and teaching. In terms of the order of the pieces and the solo order, Andrew says that “everything is up for grabs”. Whilst structured, each piece is open enough for each musician to have their own input and this is something that the group members clearly relish.

It was important to Andrew to memorise the music that he had written and although he did not demand this of his fellow musicians, they were eager to follow suit. Eventually, all band members had memorised the music by the time of the recording session. This led to instant communication between the musicians and freed them up to do so much more in terms of their improvisations.

This is music that was born in the laboratory but also has a life outside. Bain strives for audience engagement and thinks that the musicians take more risks when the audience is engaged.

This crack quartet consists of American virtuoso musicians George Colligan on piano, Jon Irabagon on saxophone and on bass Michael Janisch, who, whilst hailing from the USA, has long been established here in the UK. It is a mark of Bain’s prowess that he is more than able to hold his own in such esteemed company.

Together they make highly accessible, thrilling yet challenging music. As befits the music, all of the musicians are versatile in their approach to the pieces. The saxophonist is both fluid and dexterous and also capable of great sensitivity. There is huge variety in the music and the saxophonist runs the gamut from John Coltrane to Sonny Rollins and beyond. But this is above all high energy, high intensity music with the musicians giving their all to make a more than satisfying whole.

The music itself is sublime and cleverly varied. This must surely be a contender for album of the year in many a jazz critic’s end of year summary.

The album opens in a somewhat pensive vein with ‘Accompaniment’. This sounds almost like a meditation and acts as a curtain raiser for what is to follow. I hear elements of Michael Brecker at his more considered best on this track and the ghost of Coltrane is never far away either.

The next track ‘Hope’ is a joyous affair which gradually builds in intensity until around the track’s mid-point when we are treated to a gorgeous piano interlude which seems to act as a cleansing of the palate before the intensity is increased once more as the piece reaches its conclusion.

‘Practice’ opens with a lovely bass figure which the rest of the group build around and then suddenly and most unexpectedly we are plunged into the most infectious swing section before reverting to the original bass figure and so these two alternating sections continue throughout the piece and everyone gives their all.

‘Responsibility’ opens with drums out front and the rhythm section quickly establish a funky, blues-drenched vibe over which the saxophonist lays a theme. This piece, to me, has echoes of Horace Silver and the pianist only seems to reinforce this in his solo, which is followed by an equally accomplished solo from the bassist.

‘Surprise’ opens with a short feature for the leader and quickly leads into a short theme statement which would not sound out of place on an Ornette Colman album, before swing become king again for a while before more tempo changes serving to keep everyone on their toes. Saxophonist and pianist are both in a more abstract mood on this piece. ‘Listening’ is more high energy music. Great fun was had by all here, I imagine.

The second longest piece on the album ‘Trust’ clocking in at 11 minutes rounds out the album. Again, the saxophonist seems to be taking Brecker as his inspiration to great effect. This piece is well named as it seems to exemplify the ethos of trust that exists between the members of this world class quartet.

Alan Musson