Jazz Review June/July 2008
It’s hard not to admire George Haslam. Musically, his course has been an unexpected one, evolving from West Coast cool (and inevitable comparison to icons like Mulligan and Chaloff) to a very personalised form of free jazz. Geographically, he’s ranged from home base in Oxfordshire to Cuba, Argentina and south-eastern Europe (notional birthplace of his increasingly distinctive second horn), always with a sense of creative adventure. If he’s not an instantly recognisable stylist or virtuoso, Haslam has the ability to set up encounters and relationships that always seem greater than the sum of the parts.
That’s true again here. I wouldn’t have picked Haslam from this on a blindfold test, at least not until the tarogato started keening, and even then it would have been a tentative question. The folkish, or perhaps better, vernacular cast to his playing takes on a new quality in the central suite, which manages to avoid almost all the usual “sun” clichés – dissonant brass, metal percussion, “hot” intervals – in favour of a three part group composition that takes on an almost ritual cast.
The CD’s only 39 minutes in length, which I have to say is a perfect duration and more labels/musicians should have the guts to do it. Haslam is, of course, both musician and label boss, which affords him a degree of autonomy. Slam exists in part to put out his own work, and this is one of the best of his projects so far. Pastor’s work is thoughtful and intriguingly elided. He’s not showy and in his presence Haslam takes on a more reticent cast. Hession, a long-standing partner of the saxophonist’s, is one of the best percussionists on the scene, a thoughtful improviser who combines power and pulse with a refreshing richness of detail. Kershaw, though is often the key element in these pieces, something noticeable when he isn’t there, providing solid pillars of sound that hold the whole thing up.
The project’s notionally dedicated to Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese, which doubly recommends it to me, and I’ve only one quibble. Bookending the suite with two shorter and unrelated pieces slightly dents its impact. Without them, the disc would only have been 23 minutes or so.