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Benet McLean: ‘Green Park’

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    Posted: 25 Dec 2023 at 10:50am

 Benet McLean – Green Park

(Sea Mammal Records SM2301. Album review by Julian Maynard-Smith) 

BENET MCLEAN - Green Park cover

‘Thank you also,’ writes violinist Benet McLean on the CD cover of Green Park, ‘to Steve Coleman and Jean-Luc Ponty for your inspiring music and words of wisdom’. And indeed we get a hint of those influences the moment McLean starts ‘Blue Fingers’ with a violin riff whose off-centred angularity suggests an M‑Base composition. But there’s a lot more going on, even on this opening track, the electric organ of Liam Dunachie and the tenor saxophone of Duncan Eagles suggesting hard bop. In the unison passages between McLean (left channel) and Eagles (right channel), Eagles is so skilful in co-piloting the melody round its numerous tight turns – and matching McLean tonally – that it’s sometimes hard to tell whether we’re hearing one player or two. Great violin, organ, drum and tenor sax solos too, the sax solo kicking off with a cheeky quote from ‘Summertime’. With everything underpinned by Rio Kai’s springy bass and Zoe Pascal’s driving drums, this opening track is packed with joy.

‘Lucy’ begins with just tenor saxophone and bass playing a pretty melody with plenty of bounce that reminded me of the tenor trio performances of Sonny Rollins or Joe Henderson (in particular, ‘Beatrice’ from Henderson’s album State of the Tenor). And when the whole band joins, organ replaced by piano, it really swings. A plump-toned and light-fingered tenor solo is followed by a graceful bass solo; and McLean’s subsequent violin solo is gorgeously limpid, with none of the rhythmic stiffness that can mar jazz violin. McLean’s also extremely tasteful (throughout the album) in his use of effects such as sustain and delay, using just enough sonic seasoning to flavour the dish without overwhelming it.

‘Red’ begins with a piano solo of Bill Evans-like dreaminess, the mood matched by a lullaby-like melody and soaring violin solo from McLean, followed by piano solo of great delicacy and an expressive Eagles solo on tenor – everything held aloft by subtle bass from Kai and gossamer brushwork from Pascal. Back with a bang for Bobby Watson’s ‘Fuller Love’ (aka ‘In Case You Missed It’), the only cover in this album of otherwise McLean originals. Right from the opening piano vamp, the band drives forward with the vigorous energy of the original Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers versions (on the acclaimed recordings Album of the Year and Keystone 3), and McLean and Eagles sync beautifully on the hairpin bends of the melody – after which we’re treated to more fine solos from violin, piano and tenor saxophone, Eagles again reminding me somewhat of Joe Henderson.

‘Mr Bap’ is like classic sixties Blue Note updated for the 21st century, an earworm tune drenched in the blues (especially the violin and tenor sax solos) but with squelchy keyboards (think Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters) and organ putting the fun into funky, and a playful ending spiralling off in an unexpected direction. Everyone sounds as if they’re having a blast. Then yet another change of mood with ‘The Pharaoh’, an abstract piece of sustained keyboard washes, cowbells, and hieroglyphic melodic fragments on violin interspersed with shimmering pizzicato and fluttering flute. Then the finisher ‘Jo’, rumbling drums and cymbal splashes preceding another lovely violin/saxophone pairing on the melody, which is aerial light and yet swinging – followed by more fine solos from piano, violin and saxophone, Eagles now sounding rather like late period Stan Getz. After the solos, violin and saxophone swoop around each other, before gliding back to the head for a soft landing.


In summary, this delightful album should entrance even those who think they don’t like jazz violin. And given the joyful energy this group has created in a studio, I bet they sound fantastic live as well.

LINK: Benet McLean website

from https://londonjazznews.com 

Edited by snobb - 25 Dec 2023 at 10:51am
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