Fergus McCreadie and Joy Crookes among nominated acts up for a Mercury

Announced today Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie has been nominated for this year's Mercury for his trio record Forest Floor. A similar record to Cairn also on the Edition label the release that really made the jazz world sit up and take note of …

Published: 26 Jul 2022. Updated: 15 days.

Announced today Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie has been nominated for this year's Mercury for his trio record Forest Floor.

A similar record to Cairn also on the Edition label the release that really made the jazz world sit up and take note of the McCreadie trio. And once again the result has that bustle and tumult, touches of Scottish folk, and a certain poeticism that made that record work so so well and make this trio one of the UK's most notable in many years. The trio wrap themselves snugly round the fertile piano lines and you get an undeniable sense of optimism in some of the record's best moments. Drummer Stephen Henderson comes into his own on 'Landslide' and here you get a sense of the power that is always possible when the trio break free while bassist David Bowden's solo.

Read a live review of McCreadie from 2018 before he broke through

We liked Joy Crookes' Skin (Insanity/Sony) also nominated a good deal. When a singer with a jazz voice essentially emerges through pop marketing and a hefty push immediately into the mainstream as what has happened with Londoner Irish-Bangladeshi singer Joy Crookes sometimes jazz fans don't know about it for a while and have to play catch up or just deny what is happening because it's not a direct route from the obvious jazz clubs and labels. That was what we wrote at the time of release Skin isn't a purist record at all and there is plenty here that has nothing to do with an exact jazz affinity (although it's foolish to prescribe this too closely as some do). 'Poison' starts like a light and frothy jazz number with a keyboard line that's like a Billy Taylor riff and it's probably the closest to what you'll hear a jazz singer do these days. Crookes sounds a little like Amy Winehouse, a little like Julia Biel. She has the sassiness of Jasmine Power too. The horns on 'When You Were Mine' are certainly jazz and the songs throughout ooze sensuality in a setting that is big city Generation Z and one that chimes with young London jazz and the new acts out there who are shaking things up. There's a confessional feel to the intimacy and an honesty that makes Crookes seem real.

'Unlearn You' is a powerful ballad that certainly can work on a jazz level bathed in strings and poignant and the way Crookes' mezzo can leap up to a glassy soprano peak is impressive. Crookes does swagger well and you get a flailing confidence on 'Feet Don't Fail Me Now' that harnesses a retro sense to propel the thing forward but does not distract. 'Wild Jasmine' again makes me think of Julia Biel a bit with the guitar opening and Julia's selfsame ability to twist and turn a line and a lick to her advantage. Title track 'Skin' again does quietness so well, it's like a Kinks song on one level and there is that Ray Davies-like classic intimacy in a lot of what Crookes does. The jazz quietness is one of the most impressive things about the album and 'Power' seems to go even more late-night and personal, the piano line almost melting to nothing while 'Theek Ache' at the end is a soul flourish. Like the direction of the lift on the '19th floor' Crookes is going straight up. What an exhilarating and so satisfying ride this all is.

A jazz act still hasn't won the award in all these years. Will this year be a first? Don't hold your breath. Our money's on Self Esteem and the brilliant Prioritise Pleasure.

Fergus McCreadie, top

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Kevin Hays and Bill Stewart, American Ballad, RGT Records ***

'Salt' has a thoughtful, gentle piano line from Kevin Hays studded by minimalist cymbal work and quietly insistent punctuation from drummer Bill Stewart on a 2015 recording that receives a first time release. Nearly all the tunes mainly improvised …

Published: 26 Jul 2022. Updated: 15 days.

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'Salt' has a thoughtful, gentle piano line from Kevin Hays studded by minimalist cymbal work and quietly insistent punctuation from drummer Bill Stewart on a 2015 recording that receives a first time release. Nearly all the tunes mainly improvised were of course written by the duo - with Annette Peacock piece 'Archangel' the only cover. You dive in at the deep end immediately with this album beginning with 'Nebula' because there is an intensity from Hays on the piece that takes your breath away. But it takes dedication to really get what the duo are offering and that effort is worthwhile. 'The Good' is easier, quite funky in some passages and then Hays goes avant-garde - Stewart is like a metronome as his time is so perfect here. Not everything grabs me. But there is more than enough to hold on to including the lovely splashes on 'Openings' and 'Archangel' is very tender and provides yet another reason to linger long on American Ballad. SG

Kevin Hays, top left, and Bill Stewart. Photo via the Hays Bandcamp page

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