…you’ll hear some great musical dialogues, with each of the three duos sounding like a match made in heaven.

Three Worlds Records / ECN Music (3CD Limited Edition Box Set)

Dialogues – Jim Rattigan (French horn) & Ivo Neame (piano)

You Must Believe In Spring – Jim Rattigan (French horn) & Nick Costley-White (guitar)

Thelonious Monk – Jim Rattigan (French horn) & Hans Koller (piano)

The French horn has always been somewhat of a rarity in jazz, with only a handful of serious exponents of the instrument. One such exponent is Jim Rattigan, who, in a career of more than forty years, has certainly done his bit to bring the instrument to a more prominent role.

As well as performing music for film and television, Rattigan has played with all the major orchestras in the UK. In addition, he has released several albums under his own name, demonstrating that the French horn can be a viable instrument in a jazz context.

He now takes that idea a stage further by pitching himself in one of the most demanding situations for an improvising musician, the duo.

In doing so, he has recorded not just one album but three, two with pianists and one with a guitarist, and they are all very different in terms of the material played and how it is approached.

Each of the three albums is exploratory in nature, but the music played has an intimate side that is as appealing as it is engaging. The music made with Ivo Neame is perhaps the most diverse, from the classical leanings of both musicians in “Reverie” by Alexander Glazounov and Rattigan’s “Elegy,” and the conversational aspect of the music is brought to life with Ivo Neame’s imaginative arrangements of two very different composers: Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” and Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”

The piano and French horn achieve a level of empathy that is astonishing as they negotiate their way through these tunes, and Rattigan’s command of his instrument brings out a dynamic and constantly changing sonic palette that is a joy to follow.

On the album featuring Rattigan with pianist Hans Koller, we are presented with an entirely different proposition. The music played is all by one composer, Thelonious Monk, and Koller’s approach to the piano contrasts nicely with Neame’s.

With Koller’s vast knowledge of Monk’s repertoire, there are some delightful surprises, and the pianist’s touch is often lighter and more playful, as heard on “Pannonica,” while there is a robustness about the playing on “Trinkle Tinkle” that is most satisfying.

It is gratifying to note that the oft-played “’Round Midnight” is given more than just lip service in a splendid reading, and one of Monk’s lesser-known compositions, “Light Blue,” a tune for which I have a particular liking, is given a splendid workout in a fascinating two-way conversation.

The duo set with guitarist Nick Costley-White is the standards album that Rattigan has said that he has always wanted to make. To say that he has made a decent job is an understatement as he literally breathes new life into some favorite songs.

From Jobim to Strayhorn, Charlie Parker to Bill Evans, the two musicians delight in each other’s playing and the colors and textures that the unusual combination of French horn and guitar can conjure up. A light and lyrical soundscape for Rattigan—the guitarist is a model of restraint, and the music has an intimate and relaxed quality.

This makes for the perfect conditions for playing ballads, with “Lush Life” and “My Funny Valentine” two standout tracks on a wonderfully lyrical stroll through some of the classic songs from the Great American Songbook.

An audacious move to release 3 CDs of duets? Maybe, but take a listen, and you’ll hear some great musical dialogues, with each of the three duos sounding like a match made in heaven.