Spark! SPARK010

Sam Massey (Trumpet/Flugelhorn/ Composer/MD); Gavin Mallett (Trumpet/Flugelhorn); Hugh Davies (Trumpet/Flugelhorn); Edward Leaker (Soprano/Alto Saxes); Jade Gall (Alto/Tenor/Baritone Saxes and Flute/Alto Flute); Tom Green (Trombone/Composer); Mike Poyser (Tuba)

Some may quibble that chamber brass and wind music, with no rhythm section, is not really jazz. I enjoyed this CD anyway because I have always liked brassy bands, as long as they are not struggling to syncopate hits from the shows.

The small size of the group, Superlocrian, makes its eight songs of “distinctive sound” sound it bit samey, but there are some inventive arrangements, including Burt Bacharach’s ‘Close to You’ by Callum Au.

The playing by group founder and trumpeter/composer Sam Massey, with Gavin Mallett and Hugh Davies also on trumpet and flugelhorn, Edward Leaker on soprano and alto saxophone, Jade Gall on saxophones and flutes, Tom Green on trombone and Mike Poyser on tuba, is consistently top notch.

As the title suggests Hills & Valleys is basically an original concept album, but with a few standards arranged with matching feel. Many of the tracks were inspired by the landscape local to the composers and band members — particularly Dartmoor National Park. ‘Whitchurch Down’ and ‘Hills And Valleys’ by Sam Massey were written during the pandemic. “Snakes Meadow’ was inspired by the Snake’s Head Fritillary, the county flower of Oxfordshire. “It used to be widespread along the Thames but now only grows in the wild in a few select spots near where I live in Oxford,” says composer Tom Green. “It’s a joyful tune celebrating the arrival of spring.”

I’d describe the music as ‘easy listening’, not in a pejorative sense – just tuneful music that’s not demanding on the ears. But I am sure it is very demanding to play, with no bed of bass, drums and piano to cover the gaps.

The sound is excellent as one would expect from anything recorded, mixed and mastered (in 2023 by John Prestage and Cicely Balston) at Air Studios in London’s Belsize Park, near Hampstead Heath. Air was once a church and Superlocrian’s Hills and Valleys sounds at home in the studio’s airy space.

Hills & Valleys is released on Spark! in association with ECN Music.

Find more information about Hills & Valleys in the Sam Massey / Superlocrian – Take Five Q&A