2019 Highlight: O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane

The release of O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane was probably the most significant ''modern mainstream'' album of the year in terms of UK jazz. Certainly there was no finer interpretation of classic Monk and Coltrane material from these islands to …

Published: 2 Dec 2019. Updated: 6 months.

The release of O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane was probably the most significant ''modern mainstream'' album of the year in terms of UK jazz. Certainly there was no finer interpretation of classic Monk and Coltrane material from these islands to appear this year.

The quartet slows it right down and by doing so captures the essence of ‘I’ll Wait and Pray,’ for instance, the George Treadwell-Jerry Valentine song Sarah Vaughan performed in 1944 with the Billy Eckstine orchestra and that a decade and a half later was interpreted by John Coltrane on what would be issued as Coltrane Jazz.

Dave O’Higgins turns in an exquisite performance and clearly he is at the top of his game. Heard in a different context recently wih Darius Brubeck at the Limerick Jazz Festival underlined the feeling that he is in the form of his life. A saxophone icon of the UK jazz scene of Irish decent O’Hig is in the studio with his band who are new generation guitarist Rob Luft stepping up to act as co-leader, and with drummer Rod Youngs out of Washington D.C. known for his work with Jazz Jamaica – and completing the line-up Belfast organist Scott Flanigan who had first surfaced to wider recognition touring with blues guitarist Ronnie Greer and a significant recruit. Flanigan has James Pearson-like chops at his disposal and that is no small claim.

O’Higgins says: “The music we’ve chosen to play focuses on lesser known Monk compositions and some of the songs Coltrane chose to record in the late-50s, more than the usual few Monk tunes and modal Coltrane so often heard. The choice of Scott Flanigan on organ changes our course from the obvious sonority associated with either musician.” One of the best albums anywhere in 2019.

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Julian Argüelles, Circularity, Cam Jazz

From 2014. This feels like a moment. Birmingham-born Argüelles, 48, who made his name in the 1990s with albums such as Home Truths and Scapes plays tenor and soprano saxophones here joined by pianist and Cam Jazz label mate John Taylor, bass don …

Published: 2 Dec 2019. Updated: 6 months.

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From 2014. This feels like a moment. Birmingham-born Argüelles, 48, who made his name in the 1990s with albums such as Home Truths and Scapes plays tenor and soprano saxophones here joined by pianist and Cam Jazz label mate John Taylor, bass don Dave Holland, and Spin Marvel drummer Martin France for an acoustic set comprised of original Argüelles material specially written for the quartet.

A member of Loose Tubes from 1985-89, Argüelles joins the reformed band playing baritone sax in the line-up for festival and club dates in the spring. Circularity, don’t be misled, is a serious but not a starkly ascetic album as it’s full of some very strong and forceful playing from Argüelles that does not tackle texture as much as deliver line after line of gutsy and demanding intervallic explorations.

There’s nothing fragile about the saxophone lines and France, on an anthemic Ballamy-esque tune such as ‘A Lifelong Moment’, has to practically restrain his three other colleagues champing at the bit from just going too far and spiralling out of control. That’s at the end of the album but it begins with the wonderful funky springy bass of Dave Holland on ‘Triality’ where there’s momentum in abundance. Recorded last summer in Sussex all the pieces have a certain intensity to them, nothing is cut and dried about the themes, and they feel as if there’s a highly evolving thought process at play, say in the piano introduction of Taylor’s on ‘Lardy Dardy’, later Argüelles shimmeringly compulsive on soprano saxophone; or what about the “unsquare dance” feel of the title track itself? Brian Morton in the notes draws comparison persuasively in Argüelles’ approach to the style of Joe Henderson and like Henderson Argüelles is able to reach deep into the spiritual core of the material to hand, and on a slow pensive ballad such as ‘A Simple Question’ this aspect of what is an excellent record is most striking. SG