British pianist and composer Django Bates
British pianist and composer Django Bates © David Sinclair/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Django Bates establishes his mischievous aesthetic when shards of piano-trio jazz dissolve into woozy somnolent brass within a few bars of the brief opening track of his new album. “Cordial” was self-penned, but though classics follow, extreme dynamics and wayward juxtapositions of style are de rigueur throughout this joyful orchestral jazz set. 

The meat of the album is centred on Belovèd, the British pianist/composer’s piano-trio homage to the late saxophonist Charlie Parker. Four reconstructed Parker originals feature, alongside two standards that are closely associated with the shortlived trailblazer — the album marks the centenary of Parker’s birth.

The altered tempi and intricate variations of the Belovèd project remain, but are now expanded into the textural grandeur of the Norrbotten Big Band. “Ah Leu Cha” opens with a brassy swagger over swinging walking bass, the twisty “Donna Lee” is rendered dissonant with clarinets, piccolos and flute and the film noir theme “Laura” is suffused with 1950s screen romance. 

But no track stays the same and piano-trio intimacy surfaces in solo flashpoints and mysterious fades. “Confirmation” captures the trio at its uncluttered best; the post-produced “My Little Suede Shoes” stands out for the supple phrasing and light touch of its rhythmic brass. The album also includes four originals. The 2013 Norrbotten commission “The Study of Touch” is a 12-minute soundscape of undulating sonorities, rhythmic stabs and a rare feature for sax.

Album cover of ‘Tenacity’ by Django Bates

In contrast the intertwining trio and brass of “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” shape-shift with a firm composer’s grip and “Tenacity”, the final track, delivers stark emotions tinged with dread. 

Bates notched up 40 years as a musician this year, but celebratory events were cancelled. Bates writes in the sleeve that these were to be titled “40 Years Outside the Box”. In the event, he says drily, all the gigs were cancelled, putting everyone “‘In the Box’, at home”.

At least, the aptly-named Tenacity remains.

★★★★☆

Tenacity’ is released by Lost Marble

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