Kairos 4tet as reviewed in Phantom TollboothBritish jazz’s bright future plateaus with this release.

(Edition Records)
8 tracks / 69 mins.

When Kairos 4tet’s début Kairos Moment burst onto the British jazz scene two years ago, heads perked up. Their classic set of timeless piano-and-sax was surprisingly sophisticated for a bunch of twenty-somethings and their sound showed more than promise; they had already arrived.

Since then the pianist has changed, with Ivo Neame joining his Phronesis colleague, bassist Jasper Høiby, to form half of the band along with drummer Jon Scott and its driving force, saxophonist Adam Waldmann.

The band’s follow-up release instantly invokes the mood of Kairos Moment and they certainly follow the pattern. These often elegant pieces owe a great debt to tradition and everything is instrumental, apart from two tracks featuring cool, floating vocals from Emilia Martensson (as before, placed second and last in the running order). This time, she gets to write lyrics (“The Calling”).

The title track is as appealing as anything they have yet recorded and sets the disc up well. The joyful, perky theme keeps appearing between solos, rather than bookending a long improvisation.

Central tracks alternate between mid-tempo explorations and slower, moodier pieces. Waldmann is a democratic bandleader, which brings out the best in everyone, and on tracks like “Hicks” and “Box Set Anti-Hero” the musicians keep their eyes on each other and play fluidly around the themes like footballers running off the ball to get it to the goal. Slower works include the wistful “Simpler Times,” with its deliberately nostalgic, eyes-closed mood, and “Philosophy of Futility,” a piece where they leave themselves room to develop and build, echoing the track’s simmering anger at cynical marketing tactics. (It is named after Professor Paul Nystrom’s theory that a lack of purpose in life leads to consuming faddish, superficial things.)

“Me and You, 100°” – inspired by a drunken friend talking to his kettle – takes its time to brew to boiling point, during which Høiby’s interplay with Neame is reminiscent in places of Brand X‘s early moments.

As with the quartet’s work in general, Waldmann’s saxes hold in tension his joint instincts, with the tenor generally embracing melody and the soprano hankering for adventure.  You may only be able to get cellophane between the two releases, but this one has a little more interactive work, as opposed to the more stable soloing on the début. There's no doubting the quality of the playing, but a little more compositional spark and variety would help.