||Two of a Mind
Chris Biscoe: baritone sax
Allison Neale: alto sax
Jeremy Brown: double bass
Stu Butterfield: drums
Colin Oxley: guitar
Then and Now
How Deep is The Ocean
Trio Records tr597
Produced by Chris Biscoe
Recorded at The Fish Factory, London, 29 Oct 2015.
Engineered & mixed and mastered at Braemar Heights, by Andrew Cleyndert.
Cover design by Meg Palmer from an image of a raku pot by Sue Avenell.
Layout and photos by Andrew Cleyndert.
Executive producers: Chris Biscoe & Stu Butterfield.
Exploring afresh the freewheeling, wonderfully melodic interpretations of standard material recorded 50 years ago by Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond on Blues in Time and Two of a Mind, this new band promises to evoke the spirit of these classic recordings while giving free reign to the personalities of the musicians.
The Mulligan and Desmond recordings were by a quartet of baritone and alto sax, bass and drums. CD re-releases included some tracks with guitar added.
More information about the band
Sebastian Scotney's sleeve notes which for reasons of constraints on space never actually made it on to the album.
Review of the band's appearance at The Bulls Head, Barnes on 2nd September 2015 also by Sebastian.
The idea here is a simple one. Pick a selection of tunes—five standards, two originals—and revisit them, in the style of the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Quartet. That group was a brief affair, making just two records together—Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet and Two of a Mind. Cleverly, Biscoe and Neale have only picked two tunes covered by Mulligan and Desmond -"Easy Living" and "The Way You Look Tonight," both from Two of a Mind. This, in effect, allows them a greater freedom to interpret the material and leave a more personal stamp on it.
There is a light, airy feel to these seven tracks. Backed by the gently shifting, swinging rhythms of Stu Butterfield and Jeremy Brown, Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale are free to solo, play unison lines or trade phrases in a way that is quietly emotionally affecting. Counterpoint, as with both the Mulligan/Desmond and Mulligan/Baker groups provides the crucial dynamic here. I always felt that there was a fugue-like, Bachian quality to those piano-less Mulligan groups and that is evident here, as well. It helps, of course, that Neale has that Desmond sound down to a tee but then Biscoe makes that mighty baritone dance like Fred Astaire.
The presence of Colin Oxley on guitar also recalls the fine records Desmond made with guitarist Jim Hall. Yet, where a piano might have got in the way, Oxley's guitar allows the horns plenty of space. "Easy Living" does exactly what it says on the label, a gentle fox-trot of a thing, while the saxophone duet opening on "How Deep is the Ocean" leads into to some beautiful contrapuntal playing from the pair. It's a also fine and fresh arrangement from Neale of that old warhorse of a thing.
"Lover" gives space to Jeremy Brown's springing, skipping bass solo and to Stu Butterfield's drums—the obligatory trading of fours. However, the rhythm section's main contribution is to keep the pulse flowing subtly—no easy task but one fulfilled elegantly here. The Latin rhythms of "Indian Summer" are quite lovely. It's a rhumba and echoes the fact that you could actually dance to most of the tracks here. Like "The Way You Look Tonight," an Astaire favourite, though the shifting pace—andante to allegro—would certainly tax my quick-stepping skills.
Chris Biscoe's own two contributions—the title track and "Rest Easy"—are perhaps the most interesting here, with their extended themes and variations. However, one of the best aspects of "Then and Now" is the way that Biscoe and Neale eschew the usual head-solo-head-solo approach of much jazz with standards. In the spirit of the original Mulligan-Desmond model, they really spin out the themes, exploring their melodic potential to the full. A very nice album all round and one that leaves you with a warm glow inside.
Duncan Heining - All About Jazz
Two saxophonists, Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale, revisit the music of Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond. The baritone-and-alto interplay of this classic late 50s-early 60s partnership had the rare distinction of being both clever and tuneful, with touches of wit. The trouble was, they only made two albums together. Now, with perfect rapport, and a positively uncanny grasp of this elusive idiom, Biscoe and Neale have come up with more, including two Biscoe originals. The playing is immaculate, with the beautifully light but firm support by bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Stu Butterfield. Colin Oxley adds subtle guitar on four tracks. It all sounds bright, sharp and, well, modern.
Dave Gelly - The Observer.
As well as taking their inspiration from collaboration in the late 1950s and early 1960s between Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, saxophonists Chris Biscoe (baritone) and Allison Neale (alto) also named their band after one of Mulligan and Desmond's records.
Playing a mixture of standards played by Mulligan and Desmond, including arrangements transcribed by Neale, and new compositions based on them, Biscoe and Neale's quartet with drummer Stu Butterfield and bass player Jeremy Brown have a light, effortlessly swinging touch.
Rooted in the past, it feels timeless. Butterfield has a gentle, subtle approach, much of the time on brushes, and Brown is spot on, but it is the interaction between Biscoe and Neale that make this recording so pleasurable. At times they seem to gently circle each other, at others one will speed off on a solo. They playfully nudge each other along, as if playing a game of catch.
Mulligan and Desmond mostly recorded as a quartet, though they were joined by guitarist Jim Hall on a few tunes. Two of a Mind is similarly augmented by Colin Oxley on guitar for several tracks. This changes the dynamics slightly, making the music even more swinging. Oxley provides additional texture, adding to the rhythmic impulse.
Despite looking back over the decades, this music isn't nostalgic: it feels very much in "the now". Perhaps it is that character that makes tunes such as How Deep Is The Ocean and The Way You Look Tonight standards. The latter closes this album: taken quite fast, Brown's bass positively buzzes along, setting the pace; Biscoe's mellifluous baritone weaving in between Neale's fluid alto. A cracking way to finish a very enjoyable album!
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.