As far as small group jazz goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Trio Records tr607

Chris Biscoe (soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, alto clarinet); Dave Whitford (double bass); Jon Scott (drums); Mike Outram (guitar); Kate Williams (piano)

Recorded 4 September 2021, 15 December 2021 & 19 February 2022

There can be few finer interpreters of Westbrook’s music than saxophonist/clarinettist Chris Biscoe. Apart from a rude interruption from the pandemic, the saxophonist has played with Mike Westbrook every year since joining the Brass Band in 1979. By my reckoning, that makes for a lot of gigs and a huge variety of music.

The concept for the album was quite a simple one, take some of Westbrook’s finest compositions out of their context and rearrange them for a small group. Sounds easy, but just how do you take the complexity of some of the composers’ charts and reduce them for a quintet, or smaller ensemble without losing sight of the original?

The answer was it appears to leave some of the decisions to the last minute, as while Biscoe took some arrangements to the sessions with him some of the music was worked out with the quintet in the studio.

Biscoe’s methods proved fruitful, and the resulting album displays not only fine contemporary British jazz but also echoes its origins in the sixties and early seventies when Westbrook, John Surman, Kenny Wheeler among other were helping define jazz that was not derivative of the music coming out of America at the time.

The compositions have been carefully chosen by the saxophonist, and the quintet work superbly as a unit. Swinging mightily with some driving support from the rhythm section ‘Goin’ To Chicago’ that has grooving alto solo from Biscoe, and some succinct and biting guitar from Outram.

The saxophonist is direct and plainly spoken in a lovely arrangement of ‘July ‘79’, again on alto saxophone, with a solo that is delicately crafted and again wonderfully supported by piano, bass and drums, and Outram again blends superbly with the saxophonist in a brief ensemble passage before his own solo.

Biscoe gets a couple of tracks to himself, both recorded on separate sessions after the group recording of September 2021 in a solo baritone saxophone reading of ‘Wasteground and Weeds’ from Kate Westbrook’s album Goodbye, Peter Lorre, and an overdubbed ‘Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado’ featuring clarinet, saxophones and street sounds and originally composed by Mike Westbrook for The Trio album L’ascenseur/The Lift that featured Mike and Kate with Biscoe.

In a fine set, mention must be made in reference to ‘View From The Drawbridge’ featuring a trio of Biscoe on soprano with Muke Outram and Dave Whitford. From the classic album Citadel/Room 315, Biscoe elected to arrange just one of its multiple themes for the session With Whitford and Outram not having played it before had a run through and fortuitously Andy Cleyndert recorded it. It was felt that this one take was sufficient, and it would be hard to disagree.

As far as small group jazz goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Reviewed by Nick Lea