British jazz need not only be the young Turks of the current generation. Of course modern British jazz exploded during the bop revolution of the 1950’s and the more experimental era of the 1960’s and beyond. This marvellous new recording, only the second in his entire career (the first being some twenty-one years previous) fittingly showcases one of the neglected practitioners and is a sheer delight from the outset. With an outstanding pedigree of sideman duties that includes working with Mike Westbook, performing live with Sonny Rollins and a lengthy three decades and more sojourn with Johnny Dankworth, trumpet and flugelhorn player Henry Lowther really should need no introduction and yet he is one of the largely hidden talents who surfaced during the 1960’s.
For this new album, he is surrounded by some of Britain’s most accomplished musicians, with Barry Green on the piano, Pete Hunt on tenor saxophone, Dave Green (he of long-term musical internships with bands of both Michael Garrick and Stan Tracey) on double bass and Paul Clarvis on drums. The tone is intensely lyrical, but melancholic, post-bop, but never too avant-garde leaning and not overly long either at just over forty-six minutes. If one had to place this style of music anywhere, then it might actually be down the ECM way of thinking, and the late Kenny Wheeler would have found much to identify with and admire here. Indeed his influence, and, perhaps. that of Booker Little are most in evidence here in the spatial use of sound. The leader is firmly centre stage on, ‘Mateja sleeps’, with some fine ensemble work, and this is notable for sparse accompaniment. Scandinavian climates (apt given the recent cold spell endured here) are evoked on the nine and a half minute, ‘Lights of the North Circular’, with fine ensemble performances, modal piano and deft percussive work. This typifies the quality of music on offer: meaty soloing throughout, but never and just the right timing. It is rather the distinctive sound of an Oriental riff greets the listener on, ‘Something like’, where the tenorist first sets the scene, ably assisted by drum roll work from Clarvis. A more 1960’s flavoured modal piece, unusually titled and onomatopoeic sounding, ‘Saippuakauppias’. Green’s piano comes to the fore in tandem with tenorist Hurt.
Such is Henry Lowther’s standing with a younger generation of British jazz musicians, that he has been out on the road as part of the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, as well as remaining a virtual ever present in the bands of Mike Gibbs and that since the year of the composer’s first ever concert as a leader, way back in 1969. Ignore at your peril. An early candidate for one of the album’s of the year. A forthcoming UK tour is promised later in the year.