Tom Cawley ‘Catenaccio’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Jazz pianist Tom Cawley’s new album ‘Catenaccio’ is a melodious and mystical jaunt, there’s a party atmosphere like at those colourful Brazilian carnivals or perhaps a football match is a more apt metaphor. ‘Catenaccio’ is an Italian football term relating to a tactical player formation. I can see Tom’s interest in football is strong as a few other track titles are football terms. Despite this, it’s not all just a euphoric high. Fini Bearman provides vocalised melodies which accentuate the soothing flute lines of Gareth Lockrane, navigating the fast and challenging chord changes with fluidity.

The album begins in an upbeat and heady fashion with ‘The Ungainlies’. A track with swelling synth chords from Tom, funky loose playing from Robin Mullarkey on electric bass and energetic drum fills from Chris Higginbottom. Tom’s speedy solo is grooving and gritty and is followed by an expressive flute solo.

On the jubilant ‘Jabulani’ flute bellows out over the intensifying back-drop of frantic chords, as if attempting to provoke a reaction for an increasingly impressive flute performance. The whole group flourishes here, achieving a vibrant orchestral fullness.

‘Nutmeg’ is a dreamy and ethereal Bossa ballad, it’s sorrowful yet sultry. Fini’s vocal tone takes a more subtle feel, as if longing for something, contrasting beautifully with the distorted and gliding synth textures.

‘Zona Mista’ – another Italian Football tactic, and the ‘evolution of Catenaccio’ if its Wikipedia page is to be believed – is a much more challenging a cacophonous affair with drums, keys and bass dissonantly grooving behind the distracted and troubled melodies of the flute and vocals.

‘Left Peg’ is more of a laid-back soulful track with tasteful Bebop lines on the flute responding to the vocals. Initially hummed by Fini, its melodies require less vocal dexterity than the previous ones, which does make you think perhaps lyrics could’ve have added an extra dimension to these vocal lines.

The surreal yet brief, ‘Row Z’ is an introspective lament. It’s full of atmospheric suspense and intrigue, with sparkling synth strings elevating the drifting melodies. Flautist Gareth’s alto flute provides a lower more sombre tone which dances around the minimalist vocals of Fini.

Completing ‘Catenaccio’ is ‘Rabona’ with more of the 70s Jazz vibe as earlier on. ‘Rabona’ provides one more chance to showcase the tender voice of Fini and virtuosity of flautist Gareth in this upbeat finale. Tom’s compositions here have created a fantastic starting point for his bandmates to triumph, making for a unique and inventive listening experience.

Fred Neighbour