Sarah Tandy ‘Infection in the Sentence’ LP (Jazz re:freshed) 4/5

Sarah Tandy, pianist and band leader, is a rising star of London’s vibrant jazz scene. We are lead into her debut recording via ‘Bradbury Street’, which begins with a simple motif played in unison by Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet and Binker Golding on sax, the riff is accompanied by Mutale Chashi’s pulsing bass sound, pretty soon they are joined by Tandy herself who initially offers us a sliver of a Thelonious Monk type sound before the piece accelerates into a more contemporary direction. Maurice-Grey’s trumpet momentarily giving us a slightly Middle Eastern flavour before Golding returns with his muscular sax. Drummer, Femi Koleoso, is also pretty busy powering the wonderfully rich and elastic sound of Chashi’s bass while simultaneously snapping around the sax and trumpet. At one or two points Tandy’s piano gets somewhat lost in the mix but is soon retrieved with her energetic lightness of touch. The piece self soothes towards the end with the reprise of the gently repeated riff that we heard at the outset. Talking of adjectives to describe Tandy’s playing Julian Joseph came up with the phrase, “fleet fingered”, when she recently played a session on his BBC radio show J to Z, this description is hard to disagree with.

The second track, ‘Nursery Rhyme’, sees a change of pace, sounding much more lyrical with those fleet fingers traveling across the keyboard in a Nordic kind of jazz mood. Tandy describes wanting to build a tune around a simple theme that a child may sing but adding elements of the darkness that can sometimes be found in a nursery rhyme.

On ‘Under the Skin’, Tandy’s piano feels like it is weaving its way above and below the drums, the delicate interplay between the two musicians here is breathtaking, I want more of this stuff! Tandy said the group developed gradually allowing space for steadily evolving musical relationships and it really does show on this track in particular.

This is an album of two distinct approaches with Tandy plugging in her Yamaha for the second half of the recording. ‘Timelord’ is built around a nifty electronic motif but no, it doesn’t sound anything like the Dr Who theme tune. But perhaps this is Tandy’s homage to Jodie Whittaker for bravely going where only males have gone before in her role as the Doctor. Anyway the theme is tentatively explored with some sensitive sax and pleasing Zawinul like sounds.

‘Timelord’ and the penultimate tune, ‘Light/Weight’, make a great pairing. Here we are offered another mellow electronic introduction reminiscent of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, but played over a more acoustic sounding piano riff – she’s made this work pretty well, which is no mean feat.

The final track is probably the least polished on offer and feels more like a work in progress. ‘Snake in the Grass’ sees an uptempo return of the trumpet and sax over a reggae/ska style theme which hints at dub in places, the keyboard squelches around searching for its feet before giving way to the rather fine Freddie Hubbard like tones of Sheila Maurice-Grey. Overall though a great debut recording, I want to go back for more and definitely catch a live date.

Finally a word about the intriguing title of this record, it helps if you know that Tandy is a Cambridge graduate of literature as well as a classically trained musician when trying to figure this one out. The title may be a reference to feminist literary theory on female perception of the male litery canon but translated to a female artists’ approach to becoming a jazz musician. The sleeve art reflects this with mirror images of Tandy bound together and at the same time muted by the banner of the album’s title. The back to back images of Tandy presumably acknowledging her jazz precursors and at the same time looking forward to her future as a jazz musician.

Tour dates:

March 29 – Islington Assembly Hall, London
April 27 – Kings Place – Hall Two, London
May 12 – Milton Court Concert Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London
May 23 – Manchester Jazz Festival.

James Read