Remember the aesthetic of the album cover, and the days where a 12” vinyl album cover could be a work of art in itself, and often the entry point into an artists music even before a note has been heard? The sepia imagery on the cover of the latest release from the John Bailey Quartet is, in many ways, reminiscent of the striking cover art of ECM, the label set up in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, and home to a catalogue of jazz, improvised and classical music, with a sophisticated level of musicianship, production and cover art work. The artwork on “Heart Horizons” perfectly reflects the music within.
The quartet features Steve Hanley on drums, Gavin Barras on bass, Richard Iles on flugelhorn and John Bailey on guitar, and will be of interest to anyone familiar with the refined, elegant production of labels such as ECM or Rune Grammofon. “Proceed with Caution” and Painters” feature tantalising interplay between the four instruments, around cheerful and buoyant themes, whilst “Laura” and “First Throw” are meditative and haunting. The acoustic guitar throughout, particularly on a piece such as “Ted’s Entrance”, is illustrative of how a sound so delicate and fragile, when set alongside other more authoritative sounding instruments, can possess a commanding voice of its’ own. One cannot help but consider how the album would sound so very different if the guitar sound were laden with ethereal effects and loops. The clean, organic sound of the acoustic guitar, however, adds an element of honesty and modesty, which allows the listener access to the intimate creative processes. “Regression” features stunning flourishes of classical guitar that bring to mind the work of Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. Whilst comparisons are being made, to help contextualise the sound, the plaintive, considerate and economical phrases of Kenny Wheeler are reflected in the contributions here from Richard Iles. The mood lifts on “Lightning Workshop” and allows each player room to stretch and embrace a funkier sound, whilst “A Harlot of a View” drifts gently over simmering percussion. Closing with “Terraced”, which appears to round up all the elements previously employed and package them into a stirring finale.
So, as one considers the moorland terrain on the cover of “Heart Horizons” and allows the music to lead the way across the landscape, each individual track is a story being told over and beyond the panorama suggested at. For anyone fortunate enough to allow him or herself time to listen to the album, here is justification to remove oneself temporarily and consider the world around them.