''Disco dancing is just the steady thump of a giant moron knocking in an endless nail'' - Clive James. There isn't any disco dancing on The Luck of the Draw.
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Sonnet XXXI - William Shakespeare
The lyrics on The Luck of the Draw are by the great poet, lyricist and critic Clive James who died in 2019 - the music is written by James' longtime songwriting partner singer-guitarist Pete Atkin. It isn't exactly a jazz album but here's the twist with the exception of Atkin, whose voice is like a cross between Ralph McTell and Charlie Landsborough's, everyone else on the album is a jazz musician.
Simon Wallace - read an interview with Sarah Moule and Wallace from 2021 - arranged and produced the album along with Atkin. And the collective personnel is a who's who of top UK jazz names: guitarist Nigel Price reviewed at Ronnie's back in April; bassist Alec Dankworth laconic and supportive and caught with Hummus Crisis here in this very recent review; Jazz Jamaica drummer Rod Youngs reviewed with Byron Wallen on Portrait; percussionist Gary Hammond; and his Higness sans orb and scepre but with sax Dave O’Higgins, reviewed in Limerick back in 2019 with Darius ''son of Dave'' Brubeck.
The Luck of the Draw includes a version of the Atkin-James song 'Winter Kept Us Warm' sung by Julie Covington on 1971's The Beautiful Changes
Returning to a fundamental point we touched on the other day writing about Love is Not a Weakness on the cross-pollination between ''singersongwritery'' and jazz. Here rather than jazzers interpreting the work of absent different-genre writers as is usually the case it's more everyone on the same page, 1970s troubadour-flâneur boho-intellectual folkery and 21st century ''modern jazzers'' going outside their usual playing situations in an open minded mash-up where words matter and the singer isn't just going la-la-la.While the musicians themselves are jazz musicians and the sensibility and sometimes the settings chime, the arrangements aren't generic at all and you might think belong somewhere else entirely.
Does this matter? Well - sounding like Keir Starmer for a moment - it does and it doesn't. Does because you may think, jazz fan, why bother if your tastes are exclusively jazz. Doesn't because, and this returns to where we started, the lyrics are so good, too good. Too good because they are actually poetry (not a criticism at all in case you are puzzled). But lyrics don't have to be as good as poetry. That doesn't mean there aren't any spectacular moments. Because the arrival of the exultant ''Dance Ginger Dance'' on movie homage 'Screen Freak' is one. Instrumentally O'Higgins' initial contribution on the touching 'The Trophies of My Lovers Gone' the title of which borrows from Shakespeare stands out too. That song contains a line you would imagine Fran Landesman, to whom Atkin & James express an affinity towards on an amused 'I Wouldn't Hear a Word Against the Spring,' would want to steal: ''you can always burn the letters, pawn the rings''. Atkin leaves not a trace of bitterness more a deftly magnanimous wistfulness that means so much more. Out on 1 September
Clive James and Pete Atkin, photo: RCA. Atkin, photo: Steve Ullathorne