Two of a Mind
Chris Biscoe: baritone sax
Allison Neale: alto sax
Jeremy Brown: double bass
Stu Butterfield: drums
Colin Oxley: guitar
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.
Buy The CD from Trio Records
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.
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.
Dave Gelly, The Observer, Sunday 19 March 2017/The Guardian ****
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.
Jazzwise June 2017 - review by Peter Vacher Recommended ****
The co-leaders, both respected soloists and bandleaders in their own right, have come together to play music inspired by the collaboration on record of Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan.
Rather than go for straight replications, they have reprised several pieces employed by their celebrated predecessors but with fresh variations, rearranged another and added two originals by Biscoe, including the title track. The overall effect is remarkably pleasing, these two players settling into a very harmonious association, their approaches clearly influenced by their chosen exemplars but without any hint of parody or pastiche. Their lines interweave, quite sinuously, the added support from Oxley (on four of the seven tracks) adding substance, as Brown and Butterfield link in without any grandstanding at all. 'Then and Now' feels more like a Tristano-based exercise, restrained and evocative, the theme quite insistent, the voicing eminently pleasing, Biscoe soloing in warm fashion, Oxley following ahead of Neale's light touch. Oxley's extended solo on 'Easy Living' only serves to emphasise just how valuable a player he is. The same goes for all the participants: small in scale perhaps, theirs is music that reaches the parts that other forms, more brash perhaps, simply don't.
Patrick Hadfield for London Jazz News
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.
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!
Jazz Journal June 2017 Brian Robinson
Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale have joined forces to recreate the ethos of albums such as Blues in Time which Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond produced some 50 years ago. The interplay between the two saxophonists is confident and engaging and they are joined on four numbers by Colin Oxley whose guitar contributions are subtle and satisfying as evidenced on a thoughtful Easy Living. Biscoe composed Rest Easy, a medium swinger based on an underlying Star Eyes. To keep you guessing the theme of Rodgers' and Hart's famous opus Lover only becomes apparent in the final few bars. An enjoyable, relaxed musical repast, well worth partaking.
The Musician - Summer 2017
Allison Neale, alto saxophone, and Chris Biscoe, baritone saxophone, have all the makings of a classic duo.
5 stars By Amazon Customer on 6 Jun. 2017 Verified Purchase
This will probably be my CD of the year! Those used to the Monkish angularity of Chris' playing on some of his more recent outings may be surprised by how warm and relaxed he sounds here and the interplay between the two leads is simply delicious with Allison's limpid alto weaving itself in and around the darker sounds of Chris' baritone sax - I will admit to a little bias here because ever since the release of AIlison's first album Melody Express I have considered her to be the finest exponent of West Coast Jazz that the UK has ever produced whether playing on alto sax or flute. This album has two of the greats of British mainstream jazz playing at very the top of their game with the spirit of Gerry Mulligan warmly apparent throughout and Allison leaning more heavily than usual towards the fluid Paul Desmond-influenced side of her musical persona than to her harder-edged Art Pepper side. The sublime rhythm section provides elegant support throughout but it is the contrast between the two horns and the inspired interplay between the two leads that really makes this lovely disc stand out from the crowd.
Martin King Smith's Academy Informer SAI 105 June 2017
Chris Biscoe’s association with Kate & Mike Westbrook has been both enduring and prodigious, with significant roles in many projects as well some 35 years with the Trio. This partnership continues with Chris’s appearance in recent Westbrook Blake concerts.
Chris has also pursued a wide-ranging solo career, appearing in big bands led by the likes of George Russell, Chris McGregor, L’Orchestre National de Jazz, Hermeto Pascoal and the Grand Union Orchestra), as leader or sideman in several small groups (Ben Davis, Harry Beckett, Liam Noble) including some adventurous avant-garde and free improvisation units (Full Monte, Inner Space). He has led bands exploring the heritage of luminaries such as Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy His latest venture, with Allison Neale, pays tribute to the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond Quartet.
In the 1950s Mulligan led some celebrated pianoless quartets, notably with Chet Baker, Bob Brookmeyer and Paul Desmond. Thislast group has inspired Biscoe’s latest venture THEN AND NOW (Trio Records tr597), a quartet with Chris on baritone sax, Allison Neale on alto, Jeremy Brown on bass, and Stu Butterfield on drums. For four of the CD’s seven tracks the line-up is augmented to include Colin Oxley on guitar.
They retain the fresh approach and lightness of touch that characterised the original Mulligan recordings, though - reflecting contemporary tastes and advances in studio technology since those days - bass and drums are more forward in the mix, creating a more authentic live sound. Chris’s baritone is rich and warm, Allison’s alto clean and pure- toned. The saxophonists eschew the wails, cries and tonal distortions of more extrovert styles, but create excitement simply through melodic invention, which is here in abundance, in solo statements, unison or harmonised themes, and (the album’s peculiar strength) improvised counterpoint.
The title track, a Biscoe original based on the chords of What’s New, demonstrates this interplay from the start. Here, as in all the tracks with guitar added, Oxley’s sensitive chordal explorations and delicate lines ensure that the group sound remains remarkably uncluttered.
Easy Living, Lover and The Way You Look Tonight all include elements transcribed from the Mulligan/Desmond recordings. One such passage, the introduction to Easy Living, has a strong suggestion of Monk’s Brilliant Corners before steering into the ballad theme.
Rest Easy, the second Biscoe original of the album, is a bebop re-working of Star Eyes. Charlie Parker played that tune a lot. I don’t think the Mulligan/Desmond band ever tackled it, though this track, and Neale’s arrangement of How Deep is the Ocean (which Desmond recorded with Chet Baker) captures their style and mood.
Victor Herbert’s Indian Summer has a 32-bar song form, though its structure is unusual: A- B-A-C, rather than the more common A-A-B- A . Originally composed in 1919 as a piano piece, it didn’t become a hit until twenty years later when lyrics were added and Tommy Dorsey popularised the tune. Delicate saxophone dialogue, guitar and bass solos all underpinned by gently propulsive brushwork from Stu Butterfield combine to create a definitive reading of this tune.
All in all, THEN AND NOW is a welcome addition to Chris Biscoe’s discography, bringing alive the cool sounds of the fifties for audiences today.
1.Then and Now
2. Easy Living
3. Rest Easy
4. How Deep is The Ocean
6. Indian Summer
7. The Way You Look Tonight
Richard Williams - The Blue Moment, June 2017
Chris Biscoe / Allison Neale: Then and Now (Trio). One of the unsung heroes of British jazz since his arrival as a promising saxophonist with NYJO in the early ’70s, Biscoe sticks to the baritone instrument on this release, joined by Neale’s alto saxophone as they explore the mood of the albums Gerry Mulligan made with Paul Desmond in the late ’50s and early ’60s. With Colin Oxley’s guitar, Jeremy Brown’s bass and Stu Butterfield’s drums in support, the approach is deceptively relaxed: this music may not bear the burden of innovation but it demands high standards of execution and integrity. The intricate improvised counterpoint on “The Way You Look Tonight” refracts Mulligan/Desmond through the Tristano prism.
By DUNCAN HEINING, All About Jazz ****
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.
When I recorded Then and Now, with Allison Neale, there were some tracks which didn’t make it onto the CD. I’m making some of these available for listening on this website. There are two Gerry Mulligan originals, Stand Still and Fall Out, plus alternate takes of four of the tunes from the CD.