Sam Crockett Quartet ‘Mells Bells’ (Whirlwind) 3/5

sam-crockatt-quartetBritish tenor saxophonist Sam Crockatt leads an exciting quartet on this recording that has something of a live feel and there is certainly a genuine vibrancy to the recording sound. Joining the leader is pianist Kit Downes who has graced many a contemporary jazz album, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer James Madden for an all-original set of compositions by the leader. The flowing opener, ‘Canon’, creates the environment in which the rhythm section can intensify and this is aided greatly by the floating feel created by Madden on drums. What does impress here is the quality of the balladry work and this is exemplified on ‘Breath’ which has a lovely tone on the saxophone and piano duet with subtle accompaniment on bass and drums. This writer would like to hear more of this side to the group’s repertoire. A semi-ballad piece in ‘I found you in the jam’ could easily be from an early Coltrane Impulse recording from the 1960s and Madden’s polyrhythms makes one think of Elvin Jones at his most sensitive. At present in tone Crockatt comes across as composite of various tenorists with Joe Henderson, 1950s Sonny Rollins and, on the ballads, Dexter Gordon, possible influences and in time will surely develop his own distinct voice. A deep awareness of the jazz tradition comes across on numbers such as the gentle-paced, ‘Tiny steps, top of the mountain’ which could be off a late 1950s jam session while the piano-less ‘A stroll on the knoll’ hints at Sonny Rollins from his ‘Way out west’ period where the melodic theme is repeated. Not everything necessarily works as well. A quasi-jam session atmosphere on the title track is, perhaps, a little too messy in parts while the staccato tempo of ‘The Masterplan’ does drag on a little too long. However, this is a varied set and one in which the individual members have plenty of space in which to operate. The group are at their most lyrical on the melancholic sounding, ‘The land that time forgot’ which actually comes across as an ECM piece and the fine group interplay is an ideal way to end the album on a high. A brief live January excursion will be followed by select dates in early February in Birmingham and Pizza Express in London. A more substantial number of concerts will take place during the second half of April.

Tim Stenhouse