…This is a superb offering from Geoff Eales, and just leaves us wondering what we can expect next.

33 Jazz 33JAZZ290

Geoff Eales (piano all tracks, Rhodes 8, 12, organ 9, 11);
Brigitte Beraha  (vocals tracks 1-5, 7, 11,13); Brenda Ford (vocals track 9); Jacqui Hicks (vocals tracks 6,8, backing vocals track 2); Jenny Howe (vocals track 12, backing vocals track 2); Matt Ridley (bass all tracks except 1, 3, 10, 11); Sophie Alloway (drums all tracks except 1, 3, 10, 11); Mark Lockheart (soprano sax tracks 6, 11); Ben Waghorn (alto sax tracks 2, 9, 12, soprano sax & bass clarinet track 9); Jason Yarde (alto sax track 4); Andy Findon (flute tracks 5, 7, 9, 12, penny whistle track 8); Carl Orr (guitar tracks 2,12); Shirley Smart (cello tracks 2, 3, 4, 12)

Feel I may be a little late for the party with this release, but this is such an important and heartfelt album from Geoff Eales that it would be a crime not to add to the plaudits already heaped upon Love Sacred & Profane.

In a diverse and varied career Eales has never been afraid to tackle just about any musical discipline. Over the last two decades or so, the pianist has pursued his love of jazz establishing himself as the leader of a first rate jazz trio, and then branching out into solo piano performances which were often completely improvised. He has retained links with his passion for classical music along with flirting with jazz rock with his band Isorthythm.

As he approached his seventieth birthday, Eales was looking for pastures new and using the time to plan his long held plans for new music that would broaden the scope of his musical palette still further. The result of this burst of creative energy, amid some difficult times personally, has seen the fruition of Eales’s musical Spirit of the Mine depicting 200 years of coal mining in his native Wales through the mediums of music, verse and dance as well as this new album.

Writing new music for especially for a carefully chosen cast of some of the finest players in the UK, Eales has brought together a disparate set of musical pieces, some of which are grandiose in their concept, and managed to present them as a cohesive whole that makes for a thrilling listening experience.

Such a project is in danger of having its longueurs, or simply becoming over indulgent as concept overwhelms content, but Eales is too wily to fall into such musical cul de sacs and always has a surprise or two up his sleeve.

The pianist strengthens his ongoing musical relationship with vocalist extraordinaire Brigitte Beraha, and the depth of understanding between the two is captured gloriously on a selection of compositions that open the first half of the album.

From the jazz rock influenced ‘The Sword’ with spirited alto playing from Ben Waghorn to the gentle opening of  ‘The Deal’ with piano, Shirley Smart’s exquisite cello and Beraha’s tender vocal that becomes heated and passionate by turns; and the appropriately title ‘Frazzled’ that whisks the listener through riff driven motifs to some of the most out playing of the album with a searing alto contribution from Jason Yarde, with bassist Matt Ridley skilfully holding it all together.

The vocalist’s interaction with the ensemble on this is phenomenal in an extraordinary performance. In immediate contrast is ‘Feather Light’ with Brigitte’s vocal and Andy Finden’s flute recalling Chick Corea’s first Return to Forever line up.

Jacqui Hicks is the featured vocalist on two lovely ballads, ‘Love Not Meant To Be’ and the moving ‘Song For My Mother’; and Brenda Ford is majestic on ‘The Saga of Salome’ taking on the song that was meant for Tina May before illness struck. Ford quite rightly looks to put her own stamp on the song, and the result is a stunning performance that also serves as a fitting tribute to Tina who sadly passed away in March 2022, and to whom the album is dedicated.

It takes a certain nerve to arrange an excerpt from Hildegard Von Bingen’s ‘O Virtus Sapientiae’ that features some beautiful soprano saxophone from Mark Lockheart in dialogue with Brigitte Beraha and then follow it with a rock anthem, ‘The Final Twist’, as the penultimate number.

Showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, this is a superb offering from Geoff Eales, and just leaves us wondering what we can expect next.

Reviewed by Nick Lea