Reviews 2

 
 
 
Review- ‘Headlong’ by Phil Bancroft Quartet Caber 034
 
Echoes magazine Dec 04 ****
 
The first notes – a lovely pin-prick of Mike Walker’s guitar against the
soft cushion of Reid Andersen’s bass – hang still and stately in the air.
The instruments breathe in the oxygen they let swirl around them and then
Phil Bancroft’s unassumingly potent tenor floats in to the frame, its arc
shadowed by Thomas Strønen’s wry tabla-flavoured percussion. What follows is
an object lesson in economic intensity; sax and guitar deliver delicate and
incisive melody and countermelody, creating an illusion of more parts and
more instruments than there actually are in the frontline while the rhythm
section steers the narrative through waters that rise and fall in choppy yet
always tightly harnessed energy. Think of liquid being shaken in a bottle,
swishing grains in a rainstick. The contents of the vessel are about to
escape, you swear. But they don’t. This mature exertion of control is really
the key to this fine album. It’s one in which the head themes ring out
unfettered and airily in the absence of chains of set chord sequences, where
the silences fit tellingly into arrangements that are melancholic rather
than maudlin, introspective without being forbiddingly introverted. Jazz has
an international lineage of elegiac storytellers
(Shorter-Ornette-Jarrett-Garbarek-Frisell-Endresen) and Bancroft makes a
suitable addition to these voices, balancing restraint and propulsion with
consummate ease. If you’ve heard any of the fine FSNT music that
acknowledges the importance of Ornette and Motian as essential purveyors of
both puckish invention and startling emotional atmospheres (I’m thinking
Bill McHenry, Chris Lightcap or indeed Reid Andersen) then you’ll really dig
this album. With its brooding grace and rigorous distillation, it marks Phil
Bancroft out as a player and composer to be ignored at your peril.
 
                                Kevin Le Gendre
 
 
Jazzwise Review
 
 
Phil Bancroft Qt ‘Headlong” ••••
 
This recording has been eagerly anticipated since the saxophonist first
assembled this quartet two years ago, and does not disappoint. the four
musicians are all individually very strong and distinctive players, but the
real strength of the band lies in their absorbing manipulations of sound,
texture and space, and the way in which they combine to generate a very high
level of creative interplay within the saxophonists compositions. Bancroft’s
own contributions are consistently striking, whether in the uptempo melee of
‘Goes Around, Comes Around’ or the slow spacious explorations of the
two-part ‘Samson Sam Song’ or the not at all aptly named ‘Headlong’. Mike
Walker’s original and unpredictable guitar work is a major cornerstone of
the band’s sound, while Anderson (replaced in recent times by Steve Watts
due to his burgeoning commitments with The Bad Plus) tends to anchor the
pulse under Strønen’s restless percussion. Another excellent Caber release,
underlining the irony of the label’s current dilemma. this will be their
last new disc for the current financial year at the very least while they
carry out a major review of their finances and strategy, although they will
continue to service their catalogue. The loss of the label would be a major
blow.
 
                                        Kenny Mathieson
 
 
 
BBC Website Review
 
 
Phil Bancroft
Headlong
(Caber)
 
It’s been a year of very fine releases from Scottish jazz label Caber, yet
they just might have outdone themselves with this set from Trio AAB
saxophonist Phil Bancroft. This is Phil’s second set as leader and though
it’s a world away from the spiky folk/jazz collisions of his usual outfit,
it might be the album that puts him in the first division of European tenor
players…
 
Headlong is by turns impressionistic, restless, even furious, though its
energy is never less than focussed throughout.  Bancroft’s compositions have
the same floating, disembodied quality as Paul Motian’s, and the band plays
with the kind of airy, supple swing that you might find on Motian’s output
with Joe Lovano. Hints of  ECM impressionism, Ornette- inspired scramble and
free improv jostle with each other throughout. The result? A kaleidoscopic,
freewheeling beauty of an album.
 
Though it’s Bancroft’s show, the other members of the quartet are given
ample space and they don’t waste it. Guitarist Mike Walker is a sweetly
melodic presence much of the time, though his occasional use of distortion
brings out a distinctly feral, rockist edge to his playing (check the
bruising intensities of “Groove 421″). 
 
The saxophonist’s lush tone and sense of space imbues the ballads
(particularly the beautiful title track) with intelligence and grace, while
at higher energy settings he unleashes short bursts of vocalised aggression
that threaten to push the whole thing off the rails. Drummer Thomas Stronen
(of Food) is a revelation; like a hybrid of Max Roach, Paul Motian and Tony
Oxley, he often gives the impression that he’s playing straight ahead swing
while someone’s emptying a large bag of marbles over his kit. On a less
abstract tip, bassist Reid Anderson (of Bad Plus fame) is solid, funky and
lyrical throughout.
 
Given their apparent empathy, it’d be nice to think this is the kind of band
that could stay together, though given the geographical problems involved I
suppose that’s unlikely. One of my favourites of the year so far, and
unreservedly recommended.
 
Reviewer: Peter Marsh
 
Jazzviews website
 
Issue 032 – October 2004
 
Artist
Phil Bancroft Quartet
 
Title
Headlong
 
Label
Caber Music 034
 
  Phil Bancroft (ts); Mike Walker (g); Reid Anderson (b); Thomas Strønen
(d)
  Recorded June 2003
 
  Of all the local scenes that are undoubtedly bubbling away beneath the
surface, too low to figure significantly on the radar of national
recognition, the one in Scotland appears at the moment to be the most
vibrant. It probably goes back to the time when the (then) young Tommy
Smith first grabbed the attention of fans, critics and major US jazz
labels, and is now clearly in excellent health. Of course this is
largely due to the network of fine, innovative musicians, but the cover
of this and other Caber CDs may give another clue. The album is
co-badged by the Scottish Arts Council and the PRS Foundation for New
Music, which commissioned the majority of the music. There’s surely a
lesson here for musicians in other regions. Or maybe they’ve already
tried that route and funding bodies south of the border are just more
miserly or conservative/philistine.
 
  In fact this band are not Scottish at all – only Phil Bancroft himself
qualifies. Phil is less well known than his brother and collaborator in
the acclaimed Trio AAB, band-leader/drummer Tom, who at the time of
writing is amazing audiences around the country with his Orchestro
Interrupto in partnership with American pianist Geri Allen. On the
evidence here, however, Phil’s lack of recognition certainly isn’t due
to any musical lack, and can only be explained by his self-effacing,
understated style. Joe Lovano’s name tends to crop up as a reference
point, and indeed Phil studied with him for a while. A more home-grown
comparison would be Martin Speake, and in fact a lot of this music
reminded me of the latter’s ‘Secrets’ album, though less conventional
and freer in approach.
 
  Although Phil wrote all the music, this is quite definitely a band,
with everyone making a full contribution. This is evident from track
one, ‘Golden Section’, which starts off with a precise, intricate
rhythmic patter from Norwegian drummer Strønen before Mike Walker’s
weaving, McLaughlin-like guitar line enters, giving something of the
feel of the Miles Davis band circa ‘In a Silent Way’. After a solo from
Bancroft, there’s a neat bit of guitar-sax interplay before Walker
emerges into the foreground. The whole thing has an organic,
spontaneous feel. The following “tune” takes us further into
post-Ornette collective improvisation territory. More guitar-tenor
duetting is gradually joined by tumbling drums and the muscular,
flexible bass of Reid Anderson (highly regarded for his work with US
“grunge jazz” band The Bad Plus). In less accomplished hands, this kind
of thing can get a bit tedious, but here interest is maintained
throughout by spontaneous variations in instrumental permutations and
levels of intensity.
 
  Taking the album as a whole, there’s a pretty varied menu. ‘Double
Trouble’ is more collective improvisation, with a squealing Bancroft at
his most Ornette-like. Elsewhere there’s the sprightly ‘BOIP Avoiding’,
a kind of skewed Latin groove on ‘Red Cow Flying’ (don’t ask me to
explain the titles) and ‘Groove 421’ with its loose-limbed funk and
blistering guitar solo. Generally, though, the atmosphere is restrained
and contemplative, as on the title track (which is anything but
headlong) and the two parts of ‘Samson Song’.
 
  Whatever the style, the playing from all four is impeccable
throughout: it’s a minor gem of small group improvisation and an album
well worth investigating.
 
  Reviewed by Steve Baxter
 
 
 
The Observer
 
Phil Bancroft Quartet
Headlong
(Caber 034)
Where other contemporary tenor saxophonists overwhelm the listener with
their fluency and confidence, Phil Bancroft’s playing has a watchful
stillness that gently draws you in. His tone is light but firm and he uses
shading and dynamics with great subtlety. He is a long-standing member of
the fruitful Edinburgh jazz scene, but this quartet is an international
affair, with Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen, English guitarist Mike Walker
and US bassist Reid Anderson, best known as a member of the Bad Plus.
 
Together, they create nine pieces in which shading, atmosphere and group
interaction are the most important qualities. The four are so well
integrated that it is impossible to tell where composition ends and
improvisation begins, although each piece emerges as a complete and succinct
statement.             Dave Gelly
 
Review: The Herald 4/9/04
 
Phil Bancroft Quartet   Headlong      Caber
Four stars
 
It’s typical of saxophonist Phil Bancroft that he should announce his
arrrival on CD as an international bandleader, not with an extravagant
fanfare, but with a recording of quiet assurance. Bancroft plays tenor in
his own image: a big man with a warm personality, not given to excessive
look-at-me pronouncements. He’s found three kindred spirits in the edgy,
inquiring English guitarist Mike Walker, the undemonstrative but sure-footed
New-York-based bassist Reid Anderson and Norwegian Thomas Strønen, one of
Europe’s most inventive drummers.
 
There’s wit and an emphatic pulse here, space to think as well as beguiling
warmth and, even when the music approaches jazz’s extremities, it has a
composed quality. If this was on ECM Records, a major voice in British jazz
would be being hailed.
 
Rob Adams
 
John Fordham
Friday September 10, 2004
The Guardian
 
Phil Bancroft, Headlong
 
 If you’ve heard Scottish saxophonist Phil Bancroft with his drummer brother
Tom and guitarist Kevin MacKenzie in Trio AAB, you might expect more of an
upfront mix of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and a Highlands piper than you
get on this more muted set. The saxophonist’s partners here are guitarist
Mike Walker, bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Thomas Stronen, so a
free-grooving, north European feel is more in evidence.
 
But if this represents Bancroft’s softer side, his power to surprise is not
softened at all, and the set reveals a new line of development that in some
respects suggests a folksier but equally lyrical version of Andy Sheppard in
its delicate sax nuances and its willingness to let good ideas develop
slowly.
 
Bancroft and Walker sometimes converse in garrulous bursts of
free-association, before the drums and bass rise restlessly up around them,
then the short tumult gives way to a lullaby-like tune, a postboppish
sax/guitar theme that recalls Joe Lovano with John Scofield, long sighs of
tenor sound against scuttling free-rhythm, blurty improv and playful grooves
in which Stronen’s percussion inventiveness glitters.
 
 
The Scotsman
 
PHIL BANCROFT QUARTET: HEADLONG ****
CABER MUSIC, £14.99
 
Caber Music’s final new release pending an extensive review of their
operations maintains the Musselburgh-based label’s high standards.
Saxophonist Phil Bancroft is joined in this international quartet by three
more highly individual musical personalities, English guitarist Mike Walker,
American bassist Reid Anderson and Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen. They
combine to generate a consistently absorbing creative interplay within the
saxophonist’s spacious and varied compositions, drawing on subtle and
thoughtful manipulations of timbre, texture and space as well as visceral
excitement. A powerful reminder that the loss of Caber would be a major blow
to Scottish jazz.  
 
KENNY MATHIESON  
 

 
phil bancroft – saxophone