ARQ – Short Stories
Blow the Fuse Records BTF1914CD
Alison Rayner (double bass); Buster Birch (drums, percussion); Deidre Cartwright (guitar); Diane McLoughlin (saxophones); Steve Lodder (piano)
This is the third recording for the enterprising Alison Rayner Quintet, and is proof that keeping a stable personnel reaps rewards by the bucket load as the quintet continue to go from strength to strength.
Once again all of the material comes from within the band, and Rayner retains the theme from the previous set, A Magic Life (reviewed by Chris Baber), of memory, loss and love with the album being dedicated and inspired by friends and family that had departed too soon. Like the last album, Short Stories does not dwell on sadness but rather the joy of having known the people in question, albeit all too briefly. The resulting music is therefore filled with happiness and the pleasure in remembering those that have departed.
As with A Magic Life, the tunes are all tightly arranged and played with an effortless ease that lifts the music. The quintet are by now so familiar with each others compositional style that there is now a readily indentifiable group sound that can be heard to be evolving with each new recording. The music is packed with incident yet retaining a sure sense of the story behind each composition with each musician knowing just what is required at any given moment.
Rayner’s bass playing is warm toned and supple, propulsive when the music demands it and at other times one can simply luxuriate in her the beautiful sound and melodic lines. Partnered with the impeccable drumming of Buster Birch the listener is aware that the music can go anywhere at the drop of a hat, and also gives the other mebers of the group the surefooted rhythmic platform for their own contributions. This is apparent in the wonderful relationship between Deidre Cartwright and Steve Lodder who combine superbly with guitar and piano knowing almost telepathically what the other is doing without ever getting in each others way.
This allows for some seriously sophisticated writing from all that makes for an enthralling listen. The material is remarkably diverse while retaining both concept and cementing the overall group sound, from the opening ‘Cjoajingolong Bushwalk’ inspired by the people, wildlife and birdsong of the Australian bush to the closing ‘Seeing Around Corners’ with a scorching solo from Deidre Cartwright. Elsewhere there are some fine contributions from all. Steve Lodder never sounds less than totally in command of whatever setting he is in and has some fine solos throughout. Especially effective is the piano and guitar dialogue on ‘Here And Now’ where Lodder’s solo is exquisite and suberbly picked up and followed by Deidre Cartwright in her own solo.
You would be hard pushed to find anything as lovely as the leader’s composition, ‘A Braw Boy’, a beautiful melody played out by Diane McLoughlin on soprano saxophone and sensitive accompaniment from the piano/guitar partnership that is now becoming such an integral part of the quintet’s sound; but the guitarist has a pretty good attempt at doing just that with the equally lovely ‘ Life Lived Wide’. Originally a tribute to Esbjön Svenssen, but has rewritten it a for friend and colleague Debbie Dickinson, and features some lovely playing, this time on tenor from McLoughlin.
Another joyous set from ARQ that reflects on some of life’s sadder events and turns them into something altogether more optimistic, and in doing so reminds of the happiness and memories that people in our lives bring us.
Reviewed by Nick Lea