Dave O’Higgins / Rob Luft ‘O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Saxophonist, composer, arranger and producer Dave O’Higgins and award-winning guitarist Rob Luft have joined forces to celebrate the music performed by Monk and Coltrane. Both artistes have enjoyed favourable press over the last couple of years for their own original compositions and album releases, and the duo get to show their inventive jazz chops on this highly enjoyable slice of old-school jazz. This is the thing though; it doesn’t get old does it. Not when musicians such as these breathe new and exciting life into a range of classic and perhaps lesser-known tunes, as they have done here. “Rob called me for some ‘blowing’ gigs last year. It wasn’t difficult to find a common repertoire, and a predilection for Monk and Trane tunes was apparent,” explains O’Higgins. “The music we’ve chosen to play focuses on lesser-known Monk compositions and some of the songs Coltrane chose to record in the late 50s, more than the usual few Monk tunes and modal Coltrane so often heard.”

The choice of Scott Flanigan on organ changed their course from the obvious sonority associated with either musician. O’Higgins and Luft have reinterpreted the material in a way that is both contemporary and in the tradition, drawing from a wide range of influences with deep respect for the authors. American drummer Rod Youngs completes the quartet.

For me, the most memorable tunes from this session are those that swing, and don’t they just! The quartet as a whole reminds me a little of a John Scofield quartet, just in the way they gel so effortlessly together, with, in this case, the two leaders trading solos throughout. The playing is impeccable; tight, inventive, and extremely entertaining. There’s a keen sense of respect between the musicians that makes for a relaxed atmosphere, bringing out the best from all four protagonists with an overriding conclusion to my ears that they’re all just having a bloody good time playing these tunes, resulting in a joyous experience for the listener.

“Minor Mishap” is a Blue Note style swinger from a Tommy Flanigan record featuring Coltrane with the guitar and organ replacing the trumpet and piano of the original. ‘Spring Is Here’ was recorded by Coltrane on his Prestige album “Standard Coltrane”. O’Higgins comments; “I created a new arrangement in the style I imagine Coltrane would have played it later on in his career. Rob’s Bill Frisell inspired guitar textures, with Rod’s most Elvin-esque drum contribution of the recording, and Scott’s gutsy organ are a good example of our re-interpretation of standard material.” And so this album goes, flowing freely with stunning musicianship throughout. Tunes including “Little Melonae”, “Trinkle-Tinkle” and “Like Sonny” really do hit the spot. The more thoughtful tunes such as “Round Midnight” and “Dreamland” also work particularly well, with a loose, contented vibe shining through. Most of the session is pretty much straight-ahead, with O’Higgins and Luft occasionally trying something new. Coltrane’s classic “Naima” is one such track. I love the atmosphere created by Luft at the beginning of the tune, with his layered guitars crafting a gentle colour-wash of sound, but the rest of the tune takes a wrong turn for me, losing the essence of the piece itself. That particular tune is perhaps the only slightly off-key moment on the whole album, with a big, smiling thumbs up overall. I can’t wait to see this quartet performing live. Should be a killer band to go and see. They’re on tour right now, so catch them at a venue near you soon!

Sept
7 Bull’s Head, London
8 Bristol Old Vic
9 North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
10 Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, Wales
11 Stratford Jazz, Stratford-Upon-Avon
12 Calstock Arts Centre, Cornwall
13 Creative Innovation Centre, Taunton
15 The Oval Tavern, Croydon (lunch)
15 The Royal Albert, Deptford (evening)
16 Ronnie Scott’s (late show)
17 Southampton Modern Jazz Club
21 Birdland, Hamburg, Germany

Oct
6 Boaters, Kingston
7 Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
9 Guildford Pavilion
10 Cambridge Modern Jazz
14 Bexley Jazz Club
15 Jazz In Sevenoaks
17 All Saints Church, Hove (lunch)
17 Albany Social Club, Coventry (eve)
18 Great Broughton Village Hall

Nov
2 Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
5 The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
6 Swansea Jazzland, Wales
8 Crookes Social Club, Sheffield Jazz
9 The Blue Room, Lincoln
10 Herts Jazz

Mike Gates