Stoop Quintet ‘Confession’ (ASC) 4/5

stoop-quintet“Confession” is the excellent debut from Stoop Quintet, a band formed at the University of York, led by pianist/composer Jonathan Brigg. The album has a deeply rich and darkly melodic feel to it, with sudden, refreshing bursts of improvisation. Band-leader Brigg is joined by Sam Miles on saxophones, Alex Munk on guitar, Flo Moore on bass, and Dave Smyth on drums. Together the quintet have forged an engrossing originality that not only highlights the compositional skills of Brigg, but also brings to life a togetherness and richly entertaining balance of thought-provoking and expressionistic music. “Since writing for “Ranch” for Threads Orchestra in 2012,” says Briggs, “I’ve been preoccupied with the challenge of composing for improvising musicians, while at the same time trying to honour my classical roots. Confession takes a step closer towards a jazz aesthetic, but the influences remain diverse and the role of improvisation within the music is perhaps unusual.” What is clear from listening to this album, is that each and every musician involved contributes an important role in how the tunes develop. One can hear that it’s cleverly written, but at the same time, it’s also very evident that the skill and understanding of the quintet as a whole manage to take tunes on to even greater heights.

The opening track “Ranch” gives a clear indication of the inventiveness that flows throughout the whole album. There’s often a quirkiness and always an edginess to the music that I really like. The opening riff of this tune leads into a rocky guitar solo from Munk, before journeying on, changing pace, exploring the riff and leading into the first of many stunning improvised sax solos from Miles, this one on soprano. Another feature of the tunes is just how well bassist Moore and drummer Smyth drive the pieces with a deeply understated cool groove. The impeccable piano and bass-led riff of “Turn” has a maturity to it, one that suggests this band have been playing together far longer than they actually have. There’s a warmth and depth to the music that is very satisfying. On “Fable”, undoubtedly one of my favourite tracks on the album, Briggs’ haunting piano draws the listener in. His tunes may be like short stories individually, but on this piece he creates a whole new world for the listener to fall into. But what really lifts this track into a deeper, darker, more emotional place, is Sam Miles’ sax solo. His playing truly sends shivers down my spine with an awesome tone to his tenor playing, totally enthralling. He has to be one of the most promising saxophonists on the UK scene at the moment and I can’t wait to hear more from him in the future. “Stoop Kid” is a far more exploratory piece, with conversations taking place between the instruments, inquiring and responding in various ways before the tension breaks and the tune continues to evolve. The energetic, romping “Sevens” has a classical/jazz avante grade feel to it, but it never loses the listener’s attention. Briggs’ piano is the rock on which most of the music is built, with him rarely coming to the fore, but here he does, with an infectious style to his playing that suggests a restlessness, a kind of searching to still a cluttered, over-active mind. The beauty of “Spring Song” is a stunning change of pace, with Miles’ mellow soprano working beautifully with Munk’s sensitive guitar. When Briggs’s piano brings in the melody, it’s a wonderful sound, a textural and rewarding palette of colours. The title track “Confession” is once again a piece that evolves, with many changes of mood and atmosphere all within this one tune. I’m listening to a very good composer here, as the band lead me through this confession in alluring, revealing style. The music twists and turns, taking me on journey of surprise and intrigue. The album closes with “Soldier On”, a stunning end to the recording. It opens with some ethereal guitar, before developing into a slow, pensive, yet astoundingly beautiful, soothing piece of music. I found myself putting this track on repeat several times, just to make it four or five times longer… the time needed sometimes to draw breath in a crazy world, the time needed to calm the mind and revitalise the soul.

“Confession” is a wonderful debut from Stoop Quintet. It’s so good to hear music like this being released, especially given the fact that they are all relatively young UK musicians still making their way in the music world. They have certainly made their mark here, and I for one cannot wait to hear how this quintet develops in the future.

Mike Gates