Snorre Kirk Quartet with Stephen Riley ‘Tangerine Rhapsody’ LP/CD (Stunt) 3/5

Norwegian-born but Denmark resident drummer Kirk is new to me as are the other players on this recording including well-regarded US tenor sax player Stephen Riley. The rest of the band are Snorre’s regulars Magnus Hjorth piano, Anders Fjeldsted bass and on two tracks Jan Harbeck also on tenor sax.

I’m not a great fan of labels but I guess this is mainstream jazz that recalls music that you’ve heard before but can’t quite put your finger on. It’s swinging and sometimes bluesy but doesn’t present any great surprises or raise the temperature above a pleasant and listenable level. The sound and the recording are perfectly balanced and the playing is smooth and assured throughout.

‘Unsentimental’ has Riley taking the lead and immediately demonstrating his breathy and light sound and is reminiscent of that early Bechet recording of Summertime. It’s the longest track on the record and Riley gets to stretch out, it also follows Summertime in adding a bluesy feel to a ballad format.

‘Tangerine Rhapsody’ is the first of two tracks where Kirk’s regular sax player joins. This time that the tune that is recalled is the Ellington/Tizol standard Caravan with the rhythm section providing that choppy underpinning. In truth, the two tenors sound quite similar but Harbeck seems to play more in the usual tenor timbre.

‘Blues Jump’ is well-titled – it’s a blues jump. From my ears, Riley takes the first solo with Harbeck coming in later in his lower register but the notes don’t mention who plays when so it’s on my ears and I may be wrong!

‘West Indian Flower’ strays into a gentle Monty Alexander vibe with some nice piano from Hjorth.

‘The Nightingale and The Lake’ is the high spot for me. It’s a rather beautiful ballad – and here’s perhaps a surprise – like all the tracks it was written by the drummer leader. Hjorth on piano takes it solo with lyrical and affecting playing. It’s interesting that Kirk was happy to step back on this and in fact he plays a restrained supporting role in most places. Fjeldsted also takes a more traditional rhythm role on the bass providing a reliable pulse with no melodic interventions.

‘Festival Grease’ [CD Version] has a kind of Ellingtonesque blues feel with Riley in almost Johnny Hodges mode in quite a high register (he apparently started on alto before moving to tenor).

‘Nocturne’ [CD Version] is a swinging mid-tempo bluesy conclusion to the set with Riley again to the fore in his smooth and breathy style.

In some ways, it’s perhaps jazz that people who think they don’t like jazz could relate too. Like a good egg and chips sometimes you need comfort food especially in the Spring of 2020.

Brian Homer