Gary Bartz and Maisha ‘Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions’ LP (Night Dreamer) 4/5

So, this is the third release from Night Dreamer’s “Direct-to-Disc” sessions. Following their stage-sharing at the We Out Here festival and a European tour, it reunites those playful UK spiritual jazzists, Maisha, and the legend that is Gary Bartz. It’s two parts Bartz penned and three parts writing collaboration.

Jake Long (drums) and Tim Doyle (percussion) kick “Harlem to Haarlem” off with some nailed-down batterie before the rest of the band sequentially add all the essential ingredients to bake one delicious jazz-funk layer cake: Doyle’s percussive break is the icing, Bartz’s riffing is the fruit-packed jam, Axel Kaner-Lidstrom trumpet solo is the…errr…walnuts…this is one stylish, hot-out-of-the-oven stank-facer.

Talking of stank, “The Stank” is up next. It’s a sun-blessed, breezy, gliding soul-jazz jig about that pushes and retreats, dragging you in and letting you go in a polished ebb and flow that ‘s further blessed by Bartz’s upbeat blues and Shirly Tetteh’s grinning, southern soul exuding guitar; also, I swear there’s cowbell. The standout “Leta’s Dance” brings a soothing spiritual glow; it lifts aloft Bartz’s gorgeous, affirming sax higher and higher where it patiently, wisely breathes out many colours and experiences; Al MacSween’s keys deftly augment the affirmation before the band depart leaving us with a brief, emotive solo master’s coda.

The final two tracks are sprightly, vocal-free reinventions of the classic Bartz Ntu Troop compositions “Uhuru Sasa” and “Dr Follows Dance”. “Uhuru Sasa” is a perky, close to breathless, extended jam propelled by Twm Dylan’s compelling bass; the feet won’t stop. “Dr Follows Dance” unleashes some cacophony before Long & Doyle (ITV’s new TV Cop drama?) lay down much tidiness underpinning the smooth jazz riffing and diggable guitar lines that create a classy, late-night with Letterman, soul-jazz whole.

This album is FUN. It makes my face and body smile; leaving the worries elsewhere for a moment. It was clearly a gas to play on too; you can feel the warm bonhomie and mutual respect these musicians feel for each other. It’s the sound of wide grins and shared knowing winks. And, yet, it’s no raw, free-for-all jam; it’s sophisticated, uncomplicated; no overplaying, everything in its right place. And, y’know what, for this moment, with the sun on my back, earbuds in, it’s encouraging me to consider that music could well be my sanctuary too.

Ian Ward