Bonsai ‘Bonsai Club’ CD (Ubuntu Music) 3/5

Formerly known as ‘Jam Experiment’, this band boast one of the more intriguing line-ups in jazz, with the two front-men trombonist Rory Ingham and drummer Jonny Mansfield, joined by violinist/vocalist Dominic Ingham, pianist/keyboardist Toby Comeau and bassist Joe Lee. “Bonsai Club” features eight highly original compositions of adventurous jazz-fusion, with all five band members contributing towards their uniquely bohemian sound.

“Bonsai is a group where everyone is the leader.” explains Rory Ingham. “The music is written to be played by each other, with each other. The long-standing relationships mean that Bonsai are able to work cohesively and freely as a collective, resulting in total synergy.”

Bonsai’s music is driven by a myriad of ingredients. I very much like the expressive use of vocals, with Dominic Ingham’s voice often mirroring a melody or taking a tune into a more ethereal dimension, a little like Joe Zowinal did on certain Weather Report tracks. The heavy use of synths works better on some pieces than others, but the strength of the groove-fuelled improvisations is never in doubt, often shaping the direction of the music.

Whilst the title track is a pop-hued vocal led piece, the infectious “The Crescent” is like a Pat Metheny Group piece that morphs into a trombone and bass-led hard groove. The subtle synths and cool vibe of “Tin” make this one of my favourite tracks on the album. The vocals are beautiful, and the way the track develops is wonderful, with its Pink Floyd/Talk Talk-esque nature shining through. “Bmjc” brings out the funk, with violin leading the way. The slower, smoother “Quay” is uplifting with its warmth gently pulsating. Perhaps the most straight-ahead jazz piece is “Hop-The Hip Replacement”; an excellent tune consummately performed. “Itchy Knee” takes the band into joyous and unabashed jazz-rock territory, with the title track’s reprise closing the album.

Ultimately “Bonsai Club” is a very enjoyable listen. There’s nothing too stretching about it and the album works well on many levels. The music is light and free-flowing, without ever being challenging. I can imagine this band sounding great in a live setting and to this end catch them while you can at one of the following venues in the coming weeks and months…

Mike Gates

08/05 Stratford Jazz, Stratford-upon-Avon
10/05 Wakefield Jazz, Yorkshire
13/05 North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore
14/05 St. Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
24/05 Jazzlines, Birmingham
28/05 Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
24/07 Teignmouth Jazz, Devon
25/07 Soundcellar, Poole
26/07 The Verdict, Brighton
13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London