Dorian Ford Quartet
Thursday, May 19, 2016
(Limited Lo-fi Records LLFDF001)
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
3-5 out of 5
Unashamedly melodic, the album has much to recommend it with its mix of strong original tunes, well chosen covers and excellent musicianship.
Dorian Ford is a versatile pianist and composer based in London with links to the capital’s jazz, folk and classical music scenes. As well as performing and recording he has also curated the contemporary jazz programme at the city’s St. James Theatre and, in conjunction with Jazz Services, instigated the “What Are We Doing About Jazz?” conference which presented its findings to the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Group.
Back in September 2006 I reviewed three of Ford’s early albums “Songs Trio” (2002), “Grass – Music by Other People” (1999) and “Piano” (2002) for the 24dash website. These reviews were subsequently lost and failed to make the transfer to the Jazzmann site when the latter was launched in 2008.
Ford’s publicist, Sophie Trott, subsequently rediscovered these early reviews and kindly forwarded the transcripts to me. They were subsequently re-published on the Jazzmann, totally unedited, as a feature titled “From The Archives – Dorian Ford” on January 14th 2016.
More recently Sophie has forwarded me Dorian’s two latest releases, the first being “Sharing”, a 2015 quartet set featuring trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta, bassist Steve Rose and drummer Winston Clifford. Ford, Clifford and Sigurta work regularly with vocalist Carol Grimes and the pianist and drummer both appeared on her 2013 album “C Dawn”.
Ford’s second recent recording is “Two-Fer”, also from 2015, a double set on one CD disc featuring two different projects. “To The Surface”, is a set of solo piano improvisations made in conjunction with the visual artist Tim Maguire. Meanwhile “First Date” is a duo collaboration with Oriole guitarist Jonny Phillips which also includes an almost subliminal cameo appearance by drummer Seb Rochford.
I intend to cover “Two-fer” in a separate review so I’ll look first at “Sharing”, a recording that Ford views as the logical extension of his earlier trio albums, “Songs Trio”, “Songs Trio Live” and “The Bill Game”, the latter featuring the music of Bill Evans.
With the group now expanded to a quartet the focus remains very much on melody on a collection of material that includes five original tunes sourced from the members of the group plus arrangements of Wayne Shorter’s “Peaches n Cream” and “En Gang I Stockholm” written by Bobbie Ericsson and Beppe Wolgers.
The album commences with Ford’s Latin-esque “Be Bo” which introduces Sigurta’s peerless, beautiful trumpet sound. Italian born but London based Sigurta has a gorgeous, rounded tone that can also be heard on his own 2015 album “The Oldest Living Thing”, a Cam Jazz release that features a guest appearance from the great Steve Swallow on electric bass. Sigurta has also collaborated with the bands Examples Of Twelves and Nostalgia 77 plus pianist Bruno Heinen and vocalists Sara Mitra and Ruthie Culver. As a soloist Sigurta displays a remarkable level of control and fluency and he leads off the solos here followed by features for Ford on piano and the consistently excellent Clifford at the drums.
Bassist Steve Rose composed “Early Spring”, a tune with a delightful, airy melody that encapsulates the title perfectly. Ford features first with a joyously sparkling piano solo which is followed by Sigurta’s trumpet, twisting and turning like kite in a spring breeze. The composer features with a melodic bass solo accompanied by the brisk patter of Clifford’s brushes.
An extended passage of solo piano introduces Ford’s title track, a piece that evidences something of the acknowledged influence of the ECM sound and specifically Keith Jarrett’s “Belonging” quartet. Ford’s gospel tinged tune is reminiscent of Jarrett’s ‘country blues’ style on tracks such as “The Windup”. Sigurta leads off the solos on trumpet followed by Ford in celebratory ‘Jarrett style’ on piano and Rose on similarly melodic bass.
Wayne Shorter’s composition “Peaches n Cream” represents the first cover and sees the quartet sailing into more orthodox bebop waters with Sigurta showing a different side to his playing with a fiery but fluent opening salvo on trumpet. He’s followed by Ford with a rollicking piano solo and Clifford with a series of effervescent drum breaks. This piece fairly hurtles along and is great fun, with some terrific playing from all members of the group.
The calm after the storm is represented by Ford’s elegiac ballad “Thinking of You”, a supremely lyrical and tender piece that again puts the focus very much on melody. The melancholy ring of Sigurta’s trumpet is complemented by Ford’s limpid, lyrical piano and the sensitive support of double bass and delicately brushed drums.
Also by Ford “Call in the Flowers” raises the energy levels again with the composers insistent piano vamp and a colourful bass and drum groove creating the framework for solos from Ford and Sigurta.
The album closes with “En Gang I Stockholm” (“Once Upon a Time in Stockholm”), a song that was first sung by Monica Zetterlund and which was Sweden’s entry in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest. Ford and his friends perform it as an elegant ballad with coolly eloquent statements from Ford, Sigurta and Rose with Clifford playing the role of colourist with some exquisitely detailed brushwork.
Although there are no real surprises on “Sharing” the album has much to recommend it with its mix of strong original tunes, well chosen covers and excellent musicianship. All four musicians perform with poise and elegance and the solos are consistently fluent and intelligent. Admirers of Ford’s Songs Trio will appreciate this recording with the excellent Sigurta sounding like a really natural fit for the group.
Unashamedly melodic “Sharing” has the potential to appeal to a wide jazz audience but Ford remains something of a marginal figure who really does deserve to be better known. Ironically it may be his very versatility that counts against him in this regard; Ford is a musician who is difficult to pigeon-hole and “Two-fer” is a very different beast to this recording. However one gets the impression that Ford probably likes it this way.
In the meantime I’ll be taking a look at “Two-fer” in a later, separate review.