Thoughts on The Ed Jones Quartet, 13th December 2023

On Wednesday night last, the Ed Jones Quartet led by British saxophonist and composer Ed Jones returned to Fleece Jazz for the first time in five years. Initially inspired by the music of Wayne Shorter with a style reminiscent of John Coltrane, the group includes pianist Ross Stanley, bassist Riaan Vosloo and drummer Tim Giles. Together for over ten years, they have forged a unique identity of powerfully driven fire music with atmospheric improvised soundscapes that draws from original compositions and fresh interpretations of the American songbook repertoire.

The programme featured a mix of material from the For Your Ears Only album, a couple of newer, yet to be recorded pieces and four remarkable explorations of jazz standards. The opener, ‘Nomadology’, featured Jones’ Coltranesque tenor sax floating above the rolling grooves generated by Stanley, Vosloo and Giles but there’s plenty of variation along the way with subtle changes of rhythm and tempo keeping things interesting and allowing Jones to stretch out and probe to good effect. The leader’s consistently engaging solo is followed by an expansive excursion from Stanley as he matched Jones for imagination with a skilfully constructed solo.

Next up was the popular standard, ‘It Could Happen to You’, written by Jimmy Van Heusen and originally performed by Dorothy Lamour in the musical And The Angels Sing in 1944, with lyrics written by Johnny Burke. Notable jazz recordings include those by Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Bud Powell.  A haunting melody with a laid-back rhythm, Jones states the theme on tenor before handing over to Stanley and we are reminded of his formidable skills as a pianist. Both soloists are well served by the supple, fluent grooves generated by the experienced rhythm team of Vosloo and Giles throughout.

Ed then announces that we are about to hear the “East Coast debut” of new composition, ‘Passing Time and Melancholy’, an impressive and atmospheric offering from the pen of Riaan Vosloo providing a welcome contrast to the first two numbers. The tension between the structured and the free is evident throughout as themes are sketched or suggested.

The first set closes with another standard, ‘All or Nothing at All’, composed in 1939 by Arthur Altman and made famous by Frank Sinatra soon after with lyrics by Jack Lawrence. The all-too-familiar melody temporarily suggests a return to more orthodox jazz territory but there’s an intensity about the music that is sometimes reminiscent of John Coltrane or McCoy Tyner.

The second set is ushered in by another fresh composition, Riaan Vosloo’s quirkily named ‘Tune 3 (Sneaky Snakes)’.  This was a more reflective offering, a slow burner of a piece, the kind of abstract but evocative ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording.  We reverted to another well-loved jazz standard with ‘Star Eyes’ before reaching what was to be the final announced number.

Given a choice of three numbers, our audience picked ‘Solstice’, another impressive and atmospheric offering from the pen of Riaan Vosloo. Beginning appropriately with the deep, woody sound of the composer’s melodic double bass before being joined by the eerie shimmer of Giles’ cymbals, it is yet another long, slow-burning performance with Jones’ tenor smouldering rather than blazing in the tune’s early stages. It slowly unfolds with Jones soloing above waltz-like piano chording and the flowing drum colourations of Giles. Stanley builds up the tension before gradually releasing it again before Jones segues into a stunning, Coltrane-inspired version of the classic jazz ballad ‘Body and Soul’. As the last note fades, gasps and a “Follow that!” are heard from our great listening audience who had responded to this superb original music with enthusiasm throughout.

We will try to “follow that” in two weeks’ time on THURSDAY 28th December when we celebrate the festive season with Ben, Bean, Bird and Barnes. An outstanding quintet, led by Alan Barnes, pays homage to three of the most influential giants of Jazz – Ben Webster, Coleman “Bean” Hawkins and Charlie “Bird” Parker. Please join us for what promises to be a gig full of outstanding tunes from the golden eras of swing and bebop played with passion and musical verve.

Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

Steve Jordan

1. Nomadology (Ed Jones)
2. It Could Happen To You (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke)
3. Passing Time and Melancholy (Riaan Vosloo)
4. All Or Nothing At All (Arthur Altman/Jack Lawrence)
*          *          *           *         *        *        *
5. Tune 3 (Sneaky Snakes) (Riaan Vosloo)
6. Star Eyes (Gene de Paul/Don Raye )
7. Solstice (Riaan Vosloo)
8. Body and Soul (Johnny Green/Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton)

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