Etuk Ubong Quartet ‘Tales of Life and Miracles’ LP (Jazzaggression) 4/5

This is a compilation of tunes from the first EP (Miracle) and full length album (Tales of Life) from 2016-17. It was released with a very limited run last year. However, Etuk Ubong, the young Lagos born trumpeter who leads the quartet, is returning to our shores next month for a few dates so we have a great excuse to revisit this record and enjoy it again.

Short and snappy, ‘Battle For Peace’ opens with a tight electric bass line and a circular keyboard pattern. After the signature, there’s a beautiful interplay between horns. The following will sound a little trite as this is Nigerian music but I think there’s definite hints of afro-beat in the rhythmic drive of this piece.

‘Drawing Room’ is an unusual and intriguing track. It lasts little more than two minutes and is mainly staccato trumpet bursts over a solid repetitive bass line. It gives the impression of an embryo of an idea and I hope that they can pursue this on future releases.

‘Tales Of Life’ is next. As someone who is drawn to rhythm, I feel this is a great showcase for the excellent bass player and drummer in this quartet. The drummer in particular is exciting and can definitely deliver, but they also have a good instinct for when to sit back and hold it down leaving space for the rather simple melodies, which they do often on this release. There’s also a lush beautiful trumpet solo towards the end of the track.

‘Story’ has a nagging insistent backing from piano, bass, drums giving platform and space for the lead instrument. Ubong explores the environment with restraint and warmth.

The vocal chant of ‘Uyai Mi Margaret’ follows, often doubled up on horn. There’s a hip-hop style scratchy record effect which emphasises the repetitive, looping in the vocals and horns but also brings an unexpected nostalgic ambience on this track. A tribute to Ubong’s mother.

‘Reading In The Dark’ is a 12-bar blues workout driven by a retro electric piano sound which gives it a 70s fusion feel and is great fun.

‘Suddenly’ is the conclusion of the album. There’s an anthemic quality here, delivering a succession of light and shade throughout its ten minutes or so length. It builds with a repetitive piano riff and mounting rhythm section activity with exciting, almost break beat, drum patterns. Then there’s the release as the rhythm section drops out and trumpet and keyboards bring it down again. It’s the longest track with the most complex arrangement and probably the most satisfying of this set.

This isn’t really an album for brash fireworks and showboating. The arrangements are simple, even sparse at times, but this enhances the warm, emotional and soulful music on offer here. Although these pieces were released digitally last year, chances are that you still haven’t got a copy of this brand new collection on one limited run of 250 vinyl albums yet. Too bad. Instead, go see him on one of the handful of shows here next month.

April 4 – ‘Hugh Masekela at 80’ Jazz Cafe, London – 19:00
April 4 – Ronnie Scott’s Late Night, London – 23:00
April 5 – The Lanes, Bristol

Kevin Ward