These two albums capture Bancroft’s joy in the sounds that the saxophone can make and his instincts for tunes that merge the contemporary phrasings of jazz with the melodies of traditional music always make his recordings exciting and rewarding experiences.

Phil Bancroft Quartet – Headlong

Myriad Streams: Myriad002

Phil Bancroft: tenor saxophone; Mike Walker: guitar; Reid Anderson: bass; Thomas Strønen: drums

Phil Bancroft and Gyan Singh – Birth and Death

Myriad Streams: Myriad003

Phil Bancroft: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, A whistle; Gyan Singh: tabla, kanjira, shakers

The first of this brace of new additions to Bancroft’s Myriad Streams label is a re-release of the album he released on the now sadly defunct Caber label. Anyone with a passing interest in the International jazz scene will recognise his bandmates (as a hint, think The Impossible Gentleman, Bad Plus, Time is a Blind Guide… as bands where you might have previously encountered them). The second places Bancroft’s eloquent solo saxophone in the company of a master tabla player. I’m reviewing them together because there is a neat symmetry in the ways in which Bancroft weaves lines to fit the musical context created by his musical compadres and a way in which these lines owe a debt to musical traditions that have a timeless, international dimension to them.

On ‘Bird’, track 6, on the Bancroft and Singh set, the soprano lines are reminiscent of Scottish bagpipes or Indian Sahnai in the ways in which they undulate around the trembling tabla rhythms against a background of an (unidentified) string instrument that is strummed in a constant drone (much like the opening bars of the title track which begins the set. In these duets, the players create a dialogue in which histories of quite different musical styles blend and merge in ways that create novel sounds and textures, without diluting or losing sense of the traditions that underpin them. This is quietly understated masterpiece and deserves an international audience.

In the larger setting of the quartet (albeit one in which the chordal duties are split between the obvious guitar and less obvious bass – with a similar split in the ‘solos’ that each instrument carefully unfolds beneath Bancroft’s playing). ‘Golden section’, which opens the set, is a meditative piece in which the saxophone ruminates on simple phrases with the bass picking single notes to hint at the chord structure and a percussion that buzzes underneath this. Occasionally guitar chirps a bar or two of arpeggios, but otherwise the backing is subtle and has the role of marking the space of the notes rather than seeking to fill this space. As the piece progresses, the bass develops a jostling line that echoes some of the percussion phrases to which the guitar responds. The second tune, ‘Goes around comes around’, picks up the pace, particularly in the ways in which the scorching guitar lines are picked up and rebounded by saxophone, leading bass and drums to chunter away in post-bop stuttering rhythms. Two versions of ‘Samson Sam Song’ (track 3 and 9) have, like the opening piece, a well-defined saxophone line that is explored by Bancroft for its emotional opportunities, and against which the other players improvise comments and suggestions rather than play scripted lines. There is, across the set, the sense of an orchestrated structure from Bancroft’s composition that provides sufficient framework for chordal and rhythmic development but within which the players are free to contribute and celebrate each other’s ideas.

Together these two CDs provide a welcome addition to Bancroft’s label and, of course, to his catalogue. They capture Bancroft’s joy in the sounds that the saxophone can make and his instincts for tunes that merge the contemporary phrasings of jazz with the melodies of traditional music always make his recordings exciting and rewarding experiences.