Ivo Neame StratThis jazz may be challenging for the players, but to the listeners it’s an ever-shifting set that strikes an impressive mix of musicianship, composition and tight improvisation.

Label: Whirlwind
Time:  8 tracks / 49 mins

In his liner notes, Neame claims to create “a unified set of pieces, but with contrasting moods and styles, so that the listener is engaged throughout.” He certainly succeeds in that.

He also refers to the material as “challenging,” but he must mean for the players. It certainly works well for the listener. The interplay – and there is a lot of it – is intense enough to thrill the jazz aficionado, but it is free from the clever-dick brash posturing that some players put out to prove their technical prowess. By now, he has proved that he does not need that kind of approach.

The project suggests a dedicated band given the sort of freedom that leaders like Branford Marsalis hand out to their colleagues. These musicians worked on the project over two-years, and that time has plainly both smoothed out the compositions and added plenty of detail.

On top of its rhythm section, his quintet includes vibes player Jim Hart and tenor saxophonist/flautist Tori Freestone to enable plenty of interplay with each other and his piano. The musicians are superb and their multi-instrumental skills – Neame also plays sax and Hart also drums – must help the group understanding as they establish a patchwork of soundscapes.

Every track is distinct. “Folk Song” sees Neame picking up his accordion to kick the piece off with a Balkan feel, the rhythms later becoming more South American; "Crise de Nerfs" ends with vibes, flute, piano, bass and drums all in a unison whirlwind; while the title track develops over a regular soft, but zingy, pulse of synth.

With its constantly shifting tempos, rhythms, motifs and moods, the ten-minute “OCD Blues” is a microcosm of the whole album. Its sax riff leads into some fast-paced unison work with the vibes, before a classic call-and-response section between the two. Neames’ piano then takes over the head-to-head with the vibes, giving it an almost classic retro feel. Then its post-coital coda drifts off to sleep.

Hart’s vibes are smoking on several early tracks in particular, and he is one of the main differences between this collection and some of the other leading young jazz acts that Neame works with. Here Neame seems to be enjoying the adventure of Phronesis and Marius Neset, while maintaining the lyricism of Kairos 4tet.

This kaleidoscopic work is bursting with ideas and displays a fine balance of composition and improvisation. It is easy to leave on repeat.

Derek Walker

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