With the pedigree of musicianship on offer, it’s no surprise that Harken! Is an album that pleases in so many ways.

Jazz Cat JCCD 120

Ben Crosland (bass); Steve Lodder (piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond C3 organ); Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn); John Etheridge (guitar)
Recorded 7 and 11 December 2023 Temple Music Studio, Sutton

Threeway is a chamber jazz trio formed twenty years ago, comprising of bassist Ben Crosland (who has worked with Don Rendell, Ian Carr, Peter King and Jim Mullen); keyboardist Steve Lodder (George Russell, Andy Sheppard, John Harle and Carla Bley) and trumpeter Steve Waterman (Tony Coe, Mike Garrick and Max Walden). Incidentally, Steve Lodder is also an author and has written an excellent book on the music of Stevie Wonder. On this recording, the trio is augmented by Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge.

This is an anniversary recording in more ways than one. Crosland attended Sedbergh School on Cumbria, which celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2025, and Harken! Includes a four-part suite based on the school’s four core values: Humility, Ambition, Resilience and Kindness. There’s also a piece dedicated to Crosland’s music tutor at Sedbergh. With the exception of one cover (a Joni Mitchell tune) all the songs are written by the band – Crosland composed seven; Waterman two, and Lodder and Etheridge, one each.

The album’s opener, ‘Welshcake,’ a Waterman composition, gets things off to a lively start, with plenty of zing and swing, with its soaring horn lines, nimble walking bass lines and Lodder filling in the spaces with light-touch phrases on piano. He also plays an extended solo. ‘Billie’s Blessing’ and ‘Lester Lopes Out,’ are both dedicated to Crosland’s cats. The former is a contemplative ballad, with Waterman and Crosland playing the sombre theme in unison and Lodder unleashing a tender solo on piano. Crosland also solos on this piece, with Lodder comping sensitively as the solo builds up to a pitch. By contrast, the bluesy ‘Lester Lopes Out’ has a mischievous-sounding theme (perhaps the tone of the two pieces reflects the cats’ personalities?) and Lodder breaks out on the Hammond organ.

John Etheridge’s AB4BC (‘Altered Blues For Ben Crosland’) is a laid-back blues with Waterman on muted trumpet and Lodder on Fender Rhodes. You could imagine the band playing this on a porch in the American South, just as the sun sets. Etheridge solos like a vintage bluesman and there’s a lovely relaxed feeling to the sound.

The Harken Suite forms the album’s centrepiece. ‘Humility’ is a gentle midtempo piece, with tinkling, shimmering Fender Rhodes lines combining with horn and guitar, which play the theme together. Crosland’s bass locks everything together. ‘Ambition’ is an uptempo piece, with guitar and horn engaged in a call-and-response dialogue, before Etheridge plays a long, fluent solo that includes octaves. Waterman also plays a strong solo, full of fast extended runs and flurries. Etheridge plays an angular solo on the edgy ‘Resilience.’ Lodder, on Fender Rhodes, solos with spiralling phrases sprinkled on top of Crosland’s solid bass vamp. Waterman isn’t left out of the soloing slot, playing speedy runs on muted trumpet. The final piece of the suite, ‘Kindness’ features some fine playing from Waterman, Etheridge and Crosland (who also solos), and is pleasant without being particularly memorable.

Lodder’s ‘Lazy Susan’ lives up to its title, a free and easy piece, dominated by some powerful playing by Waterman on open horn, with fast flurries and ascending runs. There’s also some lovely interplay between bass and trumpet, as they double up on a riff. ‘Cairnbank’ is a ballad that starts off with Lodder sounding like he’s playing a church organ. Waterman plays the song’s mournful theme and both Etheridge and Crosland offer up delicate solos. Waterman’s second composition, ‘Lonely Streets’ is a haunting piece, the warm sound of his horn and Lodder’s pretty piano motif evoking the feeling of loneliness in this listener. It’s one my favourite pieces, as it the band’s cover version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Black Crow.’

The tune originally appeared on her 1976 album Hejira, featuring a busy Jaco Pastorius bass line. Threeway have been covering the tune live for some time, so it’s nice to have it down on record. Lodder and Crosland lay down a tight, swinging groove, and Waterman’s horn takes on the role of vocalist, to create this fine cover. With the pedigree of musicianship on offer, it’s no surprise that Harken! Is an album that pleases in so many ways.

Threeway will be playing at the Buxton International Festival and you can grab the tickets here.