Nick Walters ‘Active Imagination’ LP/CD (22a Music) 5/5

Trumpeter and composer Nick Walters returns to 22a with his 2nd album for the label – a hugely enjoyable cosmic journey of exciting, melodic and spiritually uplifting contemporary jazz. “Active Imagination” is the result of bringing together a group of musicians for one day in the studio. With minimal rehearsal, the band collectively improvise and experiment ‘in the moment’, and the results are simply wonderful. Each musician has a distinctive individual voice and their collective spirit is a unified leap of faith that bears sumptuous fruit. Joining trumpeter Walters on this journey of exploration are Jeff Guntren on tenor sax, Rebecca Nash on piano, Ed Cawthorne on soprano sax and flute, Nim Sadot on bass, Joseph Deenmamode on percussion and Max Hallet on drums.

All of the tunes on the session are written and arranged by Walters, and although the emphasis is on improvisation, the depth and flamboyance of the band’s experimentation is only made possible by the strength of the foundation of the tunes themselves. Walters is masterful in bringing together a melodic beauty that mirrors an old-school jazz ensemble, whilst playfully and skilfully twisting the direction of the pieces into a much freer contemporary form. The musical integrity is intact and this allows the music to develop and flow in many different directions, making for a totally immersive and exhilarating listening experience.

Many influences spring to mind whilst listening to this album, ranging from Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note era to Miles’ Bitches Brew era to The Headhunters to a young Django Bates, to Coltrane and Yusef Lateef and back again, to name just a few. And there’s a wide range of musical styles effortlessly blending into the mix, from European to African and American. It’s Walters’ originality that strikes me most though, a mesmerising take on contemporary jazz.

“So Long Chef” features a gorgeous intro from pianist Nash, before racing headlong into a fusion of cosmic excellence. The combination of drums and percussion is masterful, with Walters and Guntren in fine fettle as they let their solos rip. I love the sound of this album’s recording, the live feel of the session, it’s cool vibe just oozing spontaneity and freshness. “Ahimsa” is like an other-worldly reflective meditation. The bass riff drives the tune, with Nash’s hypnotic piano breathtaking and surreal. The dream-like nature of the piece is lifted even further by the horns, blowing an air of free-spirited adventure across the tune. “Gordian Knot Part 1” features a delicately muted trumpet from the band-leader, set against the backdrop of Nash’s emotive piano and makes for a stunningly beautiful piece of music. The fierier “Gordian Knot 2” is daring and effervescent with some spellbinding soloing from Cawthorne and Walters. This is a magnificent piece with a band at their striking best, one of those tunes that as a listener you’re just blown away by the mouthwatering soloing. “Dansoman Last Stop” combines the elegance of a jazz standard with the originality of a spiritual epic. Yet another example of how Walters manages to breathe new life into things. And I can’t tell you how good Cawthorne’s flute solo is on this… just go listen and you’ll understand!

“Active Imagination” is one of those albums I’ll be listening to for a long, long time. For me, it’s got everything. Love it. Big time. Do I want more? Hell yes!

Mike Gates