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Tightly knit, superbly played

Tightly knit, superbly played music from an increasingly mature musician and composer

The young multi instrumentalist Ivo Neame is fast becoming one of the rising stars of British jazz. Proficient on both piano and alto saxophone he is a member of London’s increasingly influential Loop Collective, an aggregation of highly talented young musicians who are rapidly making an indelible mark on the UK jazz scene.
Neame’s latest release sees him moving from Loop’s own label to Edition Records, the Cardiff based label run by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson. With a steadily expanding roster that now boasts some of the leading names in contemporary British jazz Edition is becoming an increasingly important player on the jazz circuit.
Neame’s début as a leader “Swirls And Eddies” appeared on the Loop label in 2007 and was an accomplished if undistinguished piano trio date featuring Phil Donkin (bass) and George Hart (drums). With a plethora of piano trios around Neame clearly felt that he needed to produce something more distinctive for his second recording and has added vibraphonist Jim Hart (unrelated to George as far as I know) to the line up. Bassist Jasper Hoiby and rising drum star James Maddren form an all new rhythm team and overall “Caught In The Light Of Day” represents a considerable step forward.
The Loop scene is tightly knit, almost incestuous and Neame, Hart and Hoiby know each other’s playing well. Neame plays sax in Hart’s group Gemini, piano in Hart’s “standards” quartet and piano again in Hoiby’s trio Phronesis. Maddren is one of the most in demand young drummers on the scene and also appears on pianist Kit Downes’ recent trio release “Golden”.
It is the still unusual combination of piano and vibraphone that makes this album stand out from it’s predecessor, together with the increased maturity of Neame’s writing. I saw the quartet (with drummer Jon Scott replacing Maddren) play much of this material at an excellent gig in Much Wenlock earlier this year, a show reviewed elsewhere on this site. As a consequence I was very much looking forward to this album and it doesn’t disappoint.
Neame’s writing here is complex, analytical and full of clever musical ideas. Yet there’s nothing overly difficult about his music. Ideas flow logically and both Neame and Hart solo magnificently above the rhythmic backdrop supplied by Hoiby and Maddren. The bassist and drummer negotiate the challenges thrown down by Neame’s writing with ease in a strong group performance.
Neame and Hart have played together so often they could be joined at the hip and their playing dovetails together beautifully, no more so than on the opener “Caught In The Light Of Day” itself. Inspired by Neame’s love of vampire mythology the tune traverses several moods and tempos during it’s nine minute duration. Dense pianistic block chords and shimmering vibes represent extremes of light and shade but also frame memorable solos from the expansive Neame in a piece with a distinct narrative quality.
“Birdbrained” is frenetic and boppish with Neame’s skittering piano lines jousting with Maddren’s nimble, gently energetic drumming. Hart, a masterful four mallet player, is suitably mercurial on an effervescent piece that must be great fun to play.
“Quixotic” begins with the eerie sound of Hart’s bowed vibes and Hoiby’s brooding arco bass before moving on to something more energetic and fiendishly complex as Neame and Hart’s lines intertwine. Maddren is featured on a brief solo and is a powerful presence throughout the piece. It all ends as quietly as it began in yet another composition with cinematic tendencies.
At eleven minutes plus “Enigmatic” is the longest piece of the album moving from a relatively straight forward theme to a more abstract central section and back again. Hoiby’s huge, supple sound is featured in a solo capacity and the interplay between Neame and Hart on some complex exchanges is frequently dazzling. Neame’s classical background comes to the fore in places, including some passages of solo piano. “Enigmatic” is appropriately named and literally bursting with ideas.
“Passing Point” begins in brooding fashion, impressionistic and full of dark textures, before moving on to something lighter and airier but still full of compositional rigour. Hart, who frequently threatens to steal the show is again outstanding with an absorbing solo propelled by Maddren’s delightfully detailed drumming.
“Free At Last” does not feature the abstraction the title might suggest. Instead it’s freedom in the old fashioned sense as Hart’s vibraphone positively flies and Neame solos ecstatically over a (relatively) breezy rhythm.
The closing “Pear-Shaped” is paced by Hoiby’s dark. subtly powerful bass undertow and Maddren’s gently propulsive brush work. Neame and Hart solo thoughtfully above this backdrop with Hart’s eerie bow sound sometimes featuring. It’s a beautiful way to end an impressive album.
More personal and distinctive than it’s predecessor “Caught In The Light Of Day” is an impressive piece of work covering a wide range of moods and tempos and containing some complex musical ideas. There’s a certain intensity about Neame’s writing and playing that is neatly balanced by his alter ego Hart with Hoiby and Maddren forming a flexible and intelligent rhythm section. Given his youth, at 22 Maddren is the baby of a very young band, the drummer’s contribution is particularly impressive. We’ve already come to expect something exceptional from the other three.
The Neame/Hart axis evokes comparison with Chick Corea and Gary Burton but perhaps Burton’s lesser known partnership with Paul Bley would be a more appropriate parallel. Certainly Neame cites Bley as an influence along with Ellington, Jarrett, Tyner and Metheny. All are good role models for a rapidly maturing talent. Neame deserves to do well with this tightly knit, superbly played album. Try and catch this modern day MJQ if you can.

– Ian Mann, Jazz Mann, Dec 2009