Category Archives: Riprap

Snow Blue Night: RipRap Quartet

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It’s spring, the bulbs and daffodils are with us, lambs are gamboling and it is time to tell you about some new music that you may enjoy. At the end of January, I wrote about Groove Merchant by The Tommy Chase Quartet here. Kevin Flanagan played sax on that album and when I emailed to let him know about my piece, I decided that I would try to write about his current musical endeavours. It’s great to be able to write about a musician, so obviously adept in playing the hard bop changes, who has moved into different, more contemporary territory and also to tell you about a new recording that has recently been released. Riprap have played together for over 8 years and the four members have played alongside many of the great and the good of British jazz, as well as with stellar rock and soul stars.

I’ve had Snow Blue Night for just over a week and I’ve probably played it through about a dozen times. Initially, I struggled to find the words and means to write about it. First impressions included observations that the music was melodic, complex, engaging and that Riprap have the great virtue of knowing how to listen to each other as well as being able to play their individual instruments with great skill.

There is none of the head, solo, solo, solo, reprise of head predictability found in the average hard bop set. What I did hear was a very listenable set of 10 tracks. Starting with an energetic and melodic Snow Blue Night, Kevin Flanagan introduces the theme on soprano saxophone before giving way to the piano of Dave Gordon who enters a dialogue with Russ Morgan on restrained and complimentary percussion, followed by a soaring soprano sax led section. I’m aware that Kevin Flanagan worked with Bristol trip-hop band, Portishead, and the next track up, Old Year, has Andrew Brown playing a bass line that reminds me very much of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines- but maybe that’s just these old ears of mine. The Beck is a delightful piece of music that demands attention despite being played with great subtlety and restraint. As noted above, Riprap really know how to listen to each other.

Cuba Cafe, as the name suggests has something of the Caribbean about it- a bit of mambo cha cha perhaps is this poor attempt to describe the feel. Song is a complex piece played in distinct movements, with a second section which offers plenty of space for the interplay between the bass, percussion and piano. English Isobars has a sense of sophistication that the piano and soprano saxophone deliver before Andrew Brown produces a short bass solo and more exquisite piano. Newk is a tribute to Sonny Rollins. I’m not sure if it echoes any of The Colossus’s compositions in particular but it lends itself to some playful interplay between the four musicians. Saying The Names starts with a repeated looped phrase (played on the bass, I think) which runs like a pulse through a first section before Dave Gordon plays some amazing piano. A third section re-introduces Kevin Flanagan with another repeated phrase on bass to take us out. Our Lady of Guadeloupe starts with a bass led phase, which creates a sense of tension and mystery. Finally, Helicon melds another mixture of light, shade and great sensitivity.

The album sounded great over a Naim/ Spendor system. It has been a pleasure to discover a very fine contemporary set which downwithit can recommend to you without any reservation or hesitation. The great thing is that Riprap are a working quartet with at least four gigs coming up between now and September 2014 (Cambridge, Watford, Ipswich area). The album can be bought as a CD for £10 including postage and packaging direct from Kevin Flanagan’s website, which you can link to from here. You can also buy downloads from there. If you only buy one new British jazz album in the coming months, treat yourself to this one. There’s also lots more information about the band and forthcoming gigs there too.

The band:- Riprap are: Kevin Flanagan (reeds); Dave Gordon (piano); Russ Morgan (percussion); Andrew Brown (bass). January 2012. Recorded at Anglia Ruskin Recital Room, Cambridge. Produced by Kevin Flanagan, Bill Campbell and John Ward; Recording Engineer: Bill Campbell, assisted by Jamie Currie and David Kuratsu. Cover photo: Jane Perryman; Art & Design: Crosstown Traffic. Riprap (own label).

I’ve said my bit and now you can hear from Kevin Flanagan, himself, courtesy of YouTube. Naturally, he tells us about the music of Riprap in a far better way than a reviewer could hope to and there are several extracts from Snow Blue Night to be heard there too:-

To watch, click or press the button.

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Groove Merchant: Tommy Chase

Groove Mercahnt cover

This late 1980’s album is a gem that I bought when it was first released. 40 year old Tommy Chase was an experienced bandleader who worked with younger musicians and harnessed their energies to create an outfit who were at the forefront of the 80’s resurgence in modern jazz. They played hard bop to a younger audience who were only too ready to respond on the dance floor. Sadly, even by the time this came out, many of the great modern jazz originators had died, were no longer active or had moved on to play in different styles, but at least Tommy and co were there for us.

The Message is an engaging hard bop number that was penned by Nick Weldon, a former member of the band who is now a distinguished jazz educator. I was briefly in the same running club as NW and recall accompanying him on a couple of long training sessions. Unfortunately, I can’t remember picking his brains about jazz though. It’s a bit of a desperate effort to say something new, I know, but I can say with great confidence that nobody ever posted about marathon training with Thelonius Monk. Nick Weldon’s web site can be viewed by clicking here.

Double Secret is a Tommy Chase original. It has a sinuous, slinky opening that is very inviting and leads on to the cover of a jazz standard that follows.

Killer Joe is a Benny Golson composition, which is taken at a brisk, mid-paced tempo, with the fluent saxophone of Kevin Flanagan to the fore. We can listen in to Killer Joe courtesy Frank Chickens at YouTube

To listen click on or touch the arrow.

Kevin Flanagan is also a jazz educator these days, another saxophonist, like the late Yusef Latiff, who has earned a doctorate. He has a website here. Kevin has had a look at this post and let me know that this line up of the band feature in ‘Ten Days that Shook Soho’ a film about the first Soho Jazz Festival in 1987, which can be seen here:

Kevin has a new album out and although he was quick to say that it is not quite the same thing as most of the music I have written about to date, I will be having a listen and reporting back here in due course. It’s all well and good to write about past greats but it is also really important to encourage the music to move forward.

Although A Night in Tunisia invites comparisons with other more well known recordings, I’ll not make them here as I can say briefly it is not the best version I’ve ever heard- a bit too fast and frenetic for my taste.

Groove Merchant is a great soul jazz tune. That Baptist beat just makes me want to dance (twice this morning). Move over IDJ (famed London Jazz hoofers) and gimme some space there! Listen to this and you’ll be soul clapping on the off beat, as a certain much heard Billy Taylor tune is Groove Merchant’s cousin.

So Tired offers an opportunity for a fast samba shuffle and plenty of scope for Mark Edwards on piano, while Alfie’s Theme Is a straightforward take on the Sonny Rollins tune. Get Rich Quick is the sort of tune that conjures up 1960’s New York City for me- I never went there in the 60’s so I suppose I am linking it to scene setting film or TV music of the time.

The closing track, Sunset Eyes, is an opportunity for Tommy Chase to stretch out and show his talent. I can picture his controlled and seemingly effortless posture- almost as though there is no point in making hard work actually look like hard work.

Some purists may possibly dislike this set. They may feel that the music has been performed better by others (although they may want to reflect on the fact that the set contains a balance of fresh compositions and standards). I never saw The Jazz Messengers at their best, but I’m very pleased that I saw Tommy Chase play storming sets to appreciative audiences on four or five occasions. I’m also delighted that I’ve got my original CD on Stiff Records (Seez 66), which is apparently quite hard to come by for under £50 these days. If you haven’t got it, check it out and enjoy.

I’m determined to see more live jazz and if anyone reading here can recommend any bands that are as exciting as Tommy Chase’s were, please let us know.

The band etc: Tommy Chase (drums); Mark Edwards (piano); Kevin Flanagan(saxophone); Martin Klute (bass). Stiff SEEZ 66. Recorded in 1987. Production by Trevor Horn (though no studio data on CD sleeve). Cover painting Bruce McLean

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